Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Complications of planning and control

For decades, China's government has used the system of hukou permits to control where people can live. With population of Beijing reaching declared limits, the government needs to adjust the permit system.

China's registration permit overhaul to give migrant workers welfare and education access
China has passed an ordinance on its nationwide registration permit system to give hundreds of millions of its migrant workers living in cities far from their birthplaces access to welfare services such as compulsory education

The existing system of household registration has long been blamed for social instability; even those workers who have lived in adopted cities for many years are not entitled to the same benefits as locals because they do not have a household registration for their new places of residence.

Academics said the new system would improve migrant workers' right to basic welfare, including access to schooling, but more would have to be done before those with rural household registrations had the same privileges as their urban counterparts, or those leaving small towns and cities shared the benefits of permanent big-city residents.

The official ordinance has yet to be announced, but a draft, sent out for pubic consultation last year, promised residence permit holders who had moved to cities away from their birthplaces for at least six months would be eligible for nine basic public services… The ordinance is part of the Beijing efforts to reform the household registration system known as the hukou, which it had hoped to complete by 2020.

The residence permit system will allow migrants to become permanent residents if they meet certain requirements, such as staying in adopted cities for a long enough period, or making social insurance payments over a period of years… "Extra-large" cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai with populations of many millions, have the strictest requirements.

[Lu Jiehua, professor of sociology at Peking University] said the residence permit system was aimed at meeting the demands of more than 250 million migrant workers and eventually give them the same privileges as permanent residents.

The draft sets basic principles for all types of cities, but big cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou - with better social resources such as schools, hospitals and social benefits - will make it harder for immigrants to share equal entitlements.

"The Ministry of Public Security had hoped that it would be able to set up a new household registration system by 2020, but it now looks very unlikely that the reform will be completed by then," Lu said.

In Beijing, the rich and poor are shocked
On the evening of November 18th a fire broke out at a warehouse-cum-apartment block in a shantytown in southern Beijing populated by migrants—poor workers from rural areas of China whom district officials sometimes call “low-end people”. Nineteen migrants died, including seven low-end children.

[The Bejing] city government has a maximum target size for the capital’s population: 23m in 2020, only 1m more than in 2016. To achieve this, the authorities have been booting out vulnerable people: migrants from the countryside. Their places of work are being closed down. Substandard housing, the only sort they can afford, is being condemned as unsafe. Activists say 3m migrants have been evicted from Beijing and other big cities in the past five years…

The day after the disaster Cai Qi, the Communist Party chief of Beijing municipality, announced a citywide fire-safety inspection. This quickly morphed into mass evictions, starting in the shantytown. The police went round nearby buildings that had been slated for demolition, handing out eviction notices and giving people a few hours to leave. Water and electricity supplies were cut off… The line of the dispossessed snaked into the night, looking for somewhere to rest. “It looks like Beijing is not for people like us,” said one…
Where to go? Where to go?
Hitherto in the capital, middle-class scandals and the travails of poverty have usually unfolded as if on different planets… Those concerned about posh schools or house prices rarely worried about the problems of migrants and vice versa… [but] a fierce online reaction has broken through the divisions that usually separate middle-class scandals from those affecting the poor…

Unusually, some of the criticism has been overtly political. More than 100 people, including public intellectuals, signed a petition saying the evictions were illegal, an abuse of human rights and “clearly the government’s responsibility”. With heavy irony, another commentator wrote that just one month after a five-yearly party congress in Beijing, the city government was providing a taste of the “splendid future” promised at the gathering…

At the congress Mr Xi argued that social inequality and the gap between rich and poor were the biggest problems facing China. In particular, party officials fear, younger migrants, born in cities to parents who themselves migrated in the 1980s, could prove a threat to social stability because they have had little or no education in their urban homes, no longer have connections to the countryside as their parents did and—for some of the men—will not be able to marry because of a skewed sex ratio. These are the people who are being evicted from Beijing.

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