China’s Lost Files

From the Financial Times, a look at the personal employment file that follows all Chinese citizens throughout their lives:

While China has long since replaced its communist economy with a kind of raw capitalism and is fast ascending to the rank of superpower, its relationship with its own citizens remains partly stuck in its totalitarian past. The state continues to keep a secret dossier on every working citizen, which helps it retain its absolute power over the individual.

The fate that Mr Zhu and an estimated hundreds of thousands of others – although there are no reliable records on exactly how many – have suffered under this system serves as a reminder of the limits of Beijing’s market reforms.

According to Mr Zhu, back in 1994 – following an argument with his supervisor at ICBC – crucial documentation proving his cadre status, higher than that of his “worker” colleagues, disappeared from his employee file, making him unemployable for other institutions and stripping him of part of the pension benefits he had earned.

After suing ICBC without result, Mr Zhu is now going after its shareholders in a Kafka-esque fight to uncover the truth about his own past and salvage what remains of his future.

Read a previous report from the New York Times about what happens when a student's file goes missing.


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