Carl Minzner: The System that Divides China
In the Los Angeles Times, associate professor of law at Washington University’s school of law in St. Louis, writes an op-ed outlining the changes that are necessary for true reform of the hukou system:
Recent electoral reforms sidestepped crucial questions of whether to allow migrants to vote and stand for election in the cities where they work. Tough economic conditions for obtaining urban residency under many local reforms (such as actually purchasing a house) exclude low-income rural migrants living in rental apartments. In the northern city of Shijiazhuang, such reforms generated a mere 11,000 applicants for urban registration, out of a total population of about 300,000 migrant workers.
In addition, many national and local reforms have ground to a halt over thorny funding issues. Local governments resist shouldering the burden for extending education and health benefits to migrants. Many urban residents oppose cuts to their privileged levels of access to public services.
Chinese officials also have not responded positively to efforts by activists and journalists to foster public discussion of these issues. Last week, foreign news outlets reported that Zhang Hong, one of the key editors responsible for the March 1 joint editorial, was forced to resign. And authorities have deleted the editorial itself from websites throughout China.
Effectively addressing the plight of Chinese migrants requires much deeper reforms to the hukou system. It requires breaking the hereditary nature of the residency system. It requires shifting funds to better provide for migrant needs. It requires eliminating the 1950s-era regulations that underlie the hukou system and eroding the iron linkage between residency status and public services. And it requires a frank and open discussion of these issues in the Chinese media.