Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, August 23, 2010

Controlling people

The extent of control the Chinese government has over people's lives surprises many Americans even though they expect extensive authoritarianism. One facet of that control is coming under more scrutiny as the pressures of economic growth make life more difficult and inequality more apparent.

China 'hukou' system deemed outdated as way of controlling access to services
One of China's oldest tools of population control, the hukou is essentially a household registration permit, akin to an internal passport. It contains all of a household's identifying information, such as parents' names, births, deaths, marriages, divorces, moves and colleges attended. Most important, it identifies the city, town or village to which a person belongs.

The hukou dates back at least 2,000 years, when the Han dynasty used it as a way to collect taxes and determine who served in the army. Mao Zedong's Communist regime revived it in 1958 to keep poor rural farmers from flooding into the cities. It remains a key tool for keeping track of people and monitoring those the government considers "troublemakers."

Critics say the hukou system perpetuates China's growing urban-rural divide. Migrant workers flock to the coastal cities to labor in factories and take other manual jobs… Because they lack an "urban hukou," they are forever designated "temporary residents" -- unentitled to subsidized public housing, public education beyond elementary school, public medical insurance and government welfare payments.

People who live in a city such as Beijing but do not have a local hukou must travel to their home towns to get a marriage license, apply for a passport or take the national university entrance exam...

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