(residential permits)
Geographic and social mobility are relatively recent phenomena in China. It is thought that roughly 10 per cent of China’s citizens constitute a floating population of mostly rural people migrating to cities in search of work (see migration and settlement patterns). However, most remain impoverished because they find themselves outside the official urban household registration system that involves a kind of resident’s permit called the hukou. The hukou system, which was adopted into law in 1958, was originally set up to avoid overwhelming the cities of China with uncontrolled immigration. Under this system all Chinese received a document that classified them as either ‘rural’ or ‘urban’. In order to receive state benefits—education, health care, subsidized staple foods and work permits—one had to be an officially registered person in the city or rural county of birth.
Since the end of the Mao era, however, the hukou system is seen by some as an obstacle to the development of China’s cities and bureaucratically very difficult to administer. On the other hand, many of the more privileged urbanites see it as their entitlement and a protection of their living standard in the face of massive and potentially destabilizing urban growth. For example, millions of city dwellers depend on the hukou to ensure their benefits in old age. Nonetheless, officially the system is being gradually phased out as urban populations tend more and more to be influenced by the ‘socialist-market economy’ in China’s cities.
See also: housing; residential districts (urban)
Dutton, Michael (1998). Streetlife China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 77–159.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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