Hukou

In a previous post, I mentioned Hukou (Wikipedia). In China, they say it is to maintain “social order”, but it is mainly a way to control the populations in big cities.

Each family has a “Household Register”.

There’s one page for each individuals of the household. The information includes name, birth date, gender, ethnic group, address, etc.

If someone is registered in city A, but lives in city B, there are lots of restrictions. The Chinese government had removed some of them during the recent years. But still, the major impact is on the children’s education. Nowadays, the kids can have their Hukou registered as either the father or the mother. But when I was a young boy, my Hukou had to be registered as my mother. So I lived in Beijing, but didn’t have a local Hukou. My family had to pay extra money for me to go to school. With the help of one of our neighbors, we finally got Beijing Hukou when I was 14 years old (2nd year in middle school).

Due to resource shortage, China had restrictions on the amount of goods people could buy. These restrictions applied to rice, wheat flour, meat, cooking oil, fabric, etc. They started lifting the restrictions from 1980s. And in 1993, all of the restrictions were removed. Because my father was the only one whose Hukou was registered in Beijing, our family had to live on just one person’s quota. It was impossible to feed the whole family with such limited amount of food. But with the help of my aunt (the one who raised her two kids all by herself) and some others, we survived. However, I had malnutrition growing up. I don’t remember how many times I got sick during PE class. And I always had trouble passing the speed running test.

And because of the Hukou issue, my sister couldn’t go to any technical schools after middle school. So she had to go to a regular high school, even if she knew she wouldn’t pass the college admission tests. We also had to pay extra money for our education, and it was a big expense for my parents. The biggest impact to me happened when I graduated from elementary school. Most of my classmates were assigned to go to a moderately good middle school, but my parents had to find one for me on their own. The only school that wanted me was one that had very bad reputations… In Beijing, they call such a school “rogue school”. I thought my admission to this school was all set, but one of the assistant principles told my dad he had to help the school to build a bike garage. When I learned that, I just told my dad I wanted to go home… Just as I thought I would drop out of school, another assistant principle said “He is a good kid, a really smart one. Just let him stay here and forget about the garage!” Oh, she was my angel! Three years later, I was the only one from this school who was admitted to the top high schools in Beijing.

Nowadays, lots of the restrictions were removed, but the one for kids to go to school still exists. This is the major reasons that collage graduates prefer taking job offers from state owned enterprises. Because these companies can guarantee them local Hukou.

I personally understand that the Chinese government had to create some kind of restrictions, so that some large cities wouldn’t get too crowded. But a better way is to make smaller cities and farming villages a better place to live, so people will be happy to stay in their hometown. I hope one day, Hukou will become the history, and no kids will suffer what I have experienced…

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