Key Phrase: Fighting to Become a Peasant

Southern Metropolis Daily‘s “key phrase” of the day is “fighting to become a peasant,” or 争当农民. According to news reports, the term originated when government workers of Yiwu city in Zhejiang Province illegally held rural household registration permits. Yiwu is one of China’s major international trade centers.

Further details on the story, from Global Times:

Over 200 government workers in Yiwu, a manufacturing hub, were found holding rural hukou, which entitled them to a plot of land in the countryside. They could use the land to build a house or keep it and sell it to the government, Xinhua Viewpoint under the Xinhua News Agency reported Tuesday.

Government workers are not allowed to obtain rural hukou. But these workers used their authority to convince officials to give them the hukou.

It was unclear whether the rural hukou holders used their new land for any purpose. After the situation was exposed, they were forced to give up their rural hukou.

[…] “This is unfair because those civil servants not only have regular income but also enjoy all kinds of benefits,” said He Guofeng, Party chief of Guanqingfan village.

The situation has hurt the interests of genuine farmers. “The compensation money for collectively owned land is divided among villagers and whenever there is a new registered villager, the real farmers will get less,” said Liao Yongfa, head of the Yiwu’s Party organization department.

From Xinhua. Translated by CDT:

At the beginning of this year, Yiwu’s municipal organization received many letters reporting on a strange phenomenon: in order to “become peasants,” some civil servants gave up their household registration permits [hukou, 户口] to move to the countryside. One Yiwu cadre explained why some government workers would be willing to “become peasants”: “One shouldn’t despise a rural hukou — the economic benefit it has in the countryside is enormous.”

In recent years, with the rapid economic development and new quickened rural construction, Yiwu rural hukou holders translated compensation into benefit in their old villages. According to Yiwu Discipline and Inspection Committee deputy secretary Hu Aifen, if a person held a rural hukou, the village could be divided into 108 square meters of residential land, which could then accommodate a four-story home. This carried enormous earnings: on the one hand, the residence could be exchanged, and the local market price of each square meter would exceed 20,000 yuan; on the other hand, home construction could take advantage of Yiwu commercial products and the geographical position of nearby cities, develop transportation logistics, property rents and other kinds of business. It would be possible to earn higher monthly salaries than those of many city dwellers.

“Besides getting residential land and building homes, a rural hukou can also bring in land requisition compensation fees. There is a profit to be gained by using the village collective to rent the property and conducting other affairs,” said one villager.

Lastly, brief commentary via Southern Metropolis Daily. Translated by CDT:

Government workers aren’t seeking hukou, but the benefits they bring. This is the conflict that comes from powers seeking profit: wherever profit lies, power-holders will rush there. That is to say that the developed region of Zhejiang Province, the double-identity phenomenon of “peasant government workers” does not only appear in Yiwu. Yiwu’s Public Security Bureau personnel stated that in order to truly block the leaks that allow “government officials to fight to become peasants,” one must “separate the rural hukou from its enormous underlying benefits.” Truer words have never been spoken!

In Beijing and Shanghai, where the hukou are valuable, it seems that people disdain holding a rural hukou because the benefits that come from an urban one are far too great. When university graduates apply and take tests to become government workers in Beijing and Shanghai — the benefits of being a government worker per se, aside — the hukou is likely a large consideration. In contrast, in small or mid-sized cities, more people are choosing rural hukou. This shows that in the eyes of the public, it’s not the urban hukou, but whether the hukou itself harms or brings benefits.