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Mar 14

“I am a moderate adviser” – Zhang Hong and the Hukou

Written by Raj on Sunday, March 14th, 2010 at 8:00 pm
Filed under:human rights, media, Opinion | Tags:, , , , , ,
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Recently thirteen Chinese newspapers jointly released an editorial on the hukou system in China, in a coordinated attempt to press the National People’s Congress into revising and subsequently abolishing it. You can read the whole thing here in Chinese.

“China has suffered from the hukou system for so long. We believe people are born free and should have the right to migrate freely, but citizens are still troubled by bad policies born in the era of the planned economy and [now] unsuitable.”

However, after the editorial spread beyond its origins with those newspapers, Chinese censors apparently leapt into action (or were instructed to do so), and it was promptly removed from many websites. A special website set up by the Economic Observer to discuss hukou reform also disappeared. Furthermore, one of the co-writers of the editorial, Zhang Hong, was ousted from his position as deputy editor-in-chief from the Economic Observer’s website. It was also claimed that the Economic Observer received a warning from the CCP’s propaganda department.

It seems that the censors have defaulted to one of their default positions, that this topic is too “sensitive”, the editorial “too” critical or maybe that it was simply unacceptable for so many newspapers to collaborate and coordinate the publication of a critical article like this. Yet I cannot see that the heavy-handed response from the Chinese authorities was warranted. Serious discussion and criticism of hukou reform too important to be monopolised by the senior echelons of the CCP. It is not enough to let newspapers dance around the edges of the subject for fear of having action taken against them. This is surely an issue of key importance for China that needs to be discussed fully and openly.

Clearly reforming the hukou would be good for China, righting social injustice and reducing tensions felt by those who fall foul of the system. But by resisting such rigorous debate as the thirteen newspapers were trying to generate, the authorities are only delaying this necessary change.

Zhang Hong has now spoken again on this matter. Read his comments in Chinese and English. He explains the original plan behind the editorial.

“The first step: On Jan. 26, the Economic Observer Online posted a survey on household registration reform, with a call for submissions and a special topic page, and at the same time we invited two other Web sites to participate. …. Our online survey was well-received, with more than 3,500 people participating, which was quite unusual for a Web site on the scale of the Economic Observer Online.

The second step: On Feb. 22 we promoted a special section in the newspaper titled “Angry Hukou.” This special section mainly featured the difficulties people face due to the current household registration system and experts were invited to participate in the discussion. This special section already created some impact.

The third step was the climax: Putting out the joint editorial on March 1, in time for the two meetings. …. Since we had decided to publish the joint editorial on March 1, after the papers were printed, the major Web sites only posted the joint editorial on the morning of March 1, and the Economic Observer Online also promoted the editorial as the top story that day. The editorial went out, and that’s how we set the prairie on fire.

The fourth step was the conclusion. According to our plan, we would write at least two articles following the publication of the joint editorial. One was our own news story about the joint editorial, and the other was an explanation of the whole drafting process behind the editorial. I myself wrote another commentary in the afternoon entitled “Media is Not Only a Witness: Why We Released the Joint Editorial,” which we posted online. At the same time, we also published another article, “The 13-media Joint Editorial on Household Registration Reform Inspires Heated Discussion”. However, the planned article about the editorial drafting process wasn’t run due to some problems, which is the sole regret in our entire plan.”

“第一步是在1月26日经济观察网上挂出户籍制度改革的投票倡议、征文与相关专题,同时邀请两家网站共同参与。共同社论的首段“中国患户籍制度之苦久矣!我们崇信人生而自由,人生而拥有自由迁徙之权利!”字样,最初即出现于我所起草的网站投票倡议书中。我们的投票倡议获得了读者踊跃的参与,参与投票人数达到 3500人以上,对经济观察网这样规模的网站实属难得。

第二步是在2月22日当期报纸中推出名为“愤怒的户口”的户籍专题。这个专题主要是采写因户籍制度而面临过现实困难的人群的遭遇,并约请专家进行访谈。这个专题已经开始引起一些反响。

第三步是高潮,在两会期间3月1日当期推出共同社论。由于春节因素,我们约请其他媒体共同参与的工作受到了一些影响。我们本来预期是有20家以上的媒体可以参与,但实际上参与家数比我们预想要少。此篇社论的初稿是由我的另一位同事撰写,于2月7日写出初稿发给我修改。我做了很大幅度的修改,后来见报的文字基本上就是此稿。在2月9日发给我的同事后,他就宪法规定内容又提出修改意见,而后我们又根据其他报社的反馈做了一些字句上的小幅修改。我承认此篇社论文字激越,但这也是我一直信奉的风格,评论必须一针见血。报纸出版后,由于我们约定的共同发布时间是3月1日,所以向各大网站发布的社论文稿到3月1日早上才放行,而经济观察网也以头条发布此篇共同社论。社论发布后,遂成燎原之势。

第四步是收尾。按照我们的计划,在共同社论发表后,我们至少会写两篇文章,一是自我对此共同社论进行报道,二是再揭密整个策划案的过程。我本人在下午时先写出一篇《媒体不只是见证者:我们为什么表发共同社论》(此标题因编辑失误出现错误,应为 “发表”而非“表发”)的评论文章,在网上发表。同时我们也发布了一篇《13家媒体发布户籍改革共同社论引发热议》的报道文章。而原计划中的揭密策划案过程的文章,因故没能执行,此为此次策划案中惟一的缺憾。”

Zhang then went on discuss the reaction to the editorial.

“After the joint editorial was published, the reactions to it went far beyond what we initially anticipated, so to speak. We expected it would get some response, but we didn’t think it would be so great. It actually echoes an old Chinese saying, “In a world without heroes, ordinary people can make a name for themselves.” I don’t dare to take credit for the work of others, but at the same time I am not willing to put the blame on someone else, so I removed all the names of both media and individuals who participated in the editorial, leaving only the name of myself who has nothing to lose. As a matter of fact, every reader understands that the reason why this joint editorial has attracted such widespread attention is not because the media is so powerful, but because it shows the fervent anxiety of the people’s expectations!

After this incident, I was punished accordingly; other colleagues and media partners also felt repercussions. I feel a sense of guilt whenever I think about it. This can’t be blamed on the newspapers, because they are confronted by forces that cannot be resisted, and when we act we must always consider that there are many others whose livelihoods must be protected. Here I would like to thank the folks who have worked hard together with me.

My father’s generation endured so much hardship because of the household registration system, many of my friends and even the next generation still suffers greatly because of this system—struggling endlessly with nowhere to turn with their complaints. I’m not an expert, I do not propose a complete plan for reform, but I have a firm conviction that legislation that disregards the dignity and freedom of the people will ultimately land on the rubbish heap of history. I hope that this system will ultimately be abolished. When the time comes I believe that many people will burst into tears from happiness and run around spreading the news. As a media person, I can only do my utmost to fulfill my duties and obligations, and each of us should also assume our respective duties and obligations.

I am a moderate adviser, who has inadvertently stirred up a great controversy, and the development of circumstances has gone beyond my expectations. In the end I hope everyone will remember this. I am now an independent commentator. I just hope that these words may allow everyone to have a full understanding of this event. Thank you for your feedback, whether supportive or critical.”

“在共同社论发表后,引起的反响可说是远远超出我们当初的预料。我们预料过会有一些反响,但没想到会如此之大。正应了那句古话“世无英雄,乃使竖子成名”。 我不敢贪天之功,也不愿诿过于人,所以在此篇文章中将所有参与媒体与个人的名字一概隐去,只剩我这一无牵挂之人的名字。事实上,每位读者都明白,共同社论 引起的广泛影响,并不是媒体的力量有多大,而是民众的期盼有多么热切、焦急!

在这件事出来后,我本人获得了相应的处罚,其他同事和合作媒 体也受到连累。想及此,颇有负疚之感。这不能归咎于报社,因为面对的是不可抗力,我们在做事时总要考虑到还有许多人的饭碗应该保全。在此我要感谢与我一起 做出努力的同仁们。

我的父辈因户籍制度受过许多苦,我的许多朋友甚至下一代现在还在因此制度而受苦,疲于奔命,欲诉无门。我不是专家,提 不出完整充分的改革方案,但我有一种坚定的信念,一项无视人的尊严与自由的法规,终究要被历史扫入垃圾筐中。我期盼着这项制度的最终消亡,届时相信会有许 多人喜极而泣,奔走相告。作为一位媒体人,我只是在尽我的责任与义务,而我们的每一个人也都应该承担起相应的责任与义务。

我是一位温和的 建言者,无意挑起巨大的波澜,只不过事态的发展超出了预想。最后请大家记住,我现在是一位独立的评论人。只是希望这些文字能让大家对整个事件有全面的了 解。谢谢大家对我的反馈,不论是支持,还是批评。”

“In a world without heroes, ordinary people can make a name for themselves.”

If there is no political leadership in aggressively reforming the hukou system, it is madness for people like Zhang Hong to be punished for trying to take on that role. The Chinese government and elite cannot forever monopolise dealing with such an important topic, given that it affects so many people. They have had their chance and squandered it – let ordinary people be heroes for the nation.


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36 Responses to ““I am a moderate adviser” – Zhang Hong and the Hukou”

  1. Charles Liu Says:

    I think it’s entirely rational to not merely jump on current media narative such as this, but also take a step back to see household registry reform in China has been going on since the 1980’s.

    A search on Baidu with keywords “户口 改革 历史”(hukou reform history) results in a number of discussions, proponents, opponents, and improvements as well as missteps made over the decades, by people with range of opinions on this issue:

    http://www.baidu.com/s?wd=%BB%A7%BF%DA+%B8%C4%B8%EF+%C0%FA%CA%B7

    For example, this 2004 article titled “Discussion on Path To Hukou Reform, Impetus, Obsticles” by Fudan University School of Public Policy:

    – 中国大陆流动人口的总量1982年为3000万,1985年为4000万,1988年为7000万,1994年为8000万,1997年则突破1亿大关。流动人口的大量增加,对以限制人口流动为主要功能的户籍制度带来了直接的冲击,户籍制度的逐步改革由此展开,可以说,人口流动已经成为户籍制度变革的直接推动力
    China’s migrant population was 30 million in 1982, 40 million in 1985, 70 million in 1988, 80 million in 1994, breaking 100 million in 1997. Rapid increas in migrant population had a strong impact on migration restricting function of hukou. In another word, population migration has been the impetus to development of gradual reform to hukou system.

    – 80年代以来,户籍制度改革取得了许多成效,“城乡分割、一国两策”的户籍制度发生了三大显著变化:一是户籍约束人口流动的限制被打破,已有上亿农民进城务工;二是户籍背后的一些歧视性功能和收费被取消,最近几年,农民工在就业合同、工伤保险、欠薪追讨、子女上学等方面也取得进展;三是城市户口人群中具备夫妻分居、人才引进、投资创业、购房安居等条件者,已基本不再受户籍限制就可迁移落户
    after 1980’s, hukou reform gained some concrete effects. “separation of town and village, one country two system” hukou policy had three big changes: 1) aboolition of restricdtive population migration, 2) disappearance of of discriminatory assessments based on hukou, 3) separate residences by sopuse due to employment, business, housing purchase, were no longer subject to hukou restriction and can migrate, settle

    – 户籍制度的逐步放开所带来的一些负面影响,特别是对于城市社会经济的负面影响也开始被人们关注,比如大量外来人口的涌入使得原本紧张的城市公共设施更加短缺、增加了城市管理的难度等
    Hukou reform steps also brought about some negative effects, with negative economic impact to cities gaining attention, such as migrant population’s impact on already stressed public facilities, increasing difficulty of city management, etc.

    Or this 2007 People’s Daily article “Hukou Reform Will Render Rural Transfer A Historical Vernacular“:

    – 1992年,国家就成立户籍制度改革文件起草小组
    (1992, National Hukou reform draft committee was formed)

    – 1993年6月草拟出户籍制度改革总体方案,提出了包括“取消农业、非农业二元户口性质,统一城乡户口登记制度;实行居住地登记户口原则,以具有合法固定住所、稳定职业或生活来源等主要生活基础为基本落户条件,调整户口迁移政策”的改革目标
    June 1993 [the reform draf committee] released reform proposal, including “abolishing Farming, non-Farming dual system in hukou, unified township and village hukou registration; adopt residence-based registration, adjust hukou transfer policy based on steady employment, source of employment, and other livelyhood based criteria”

    – 1998年7月底,国务院就批转了公安部《关于解决当前户口管理问题的意见》,出台了旨在改革“二元结构”户籍体制的新的户口管理政策
    End of 1998, Interior Ministry approved Gongan Dept’s “Opinions in solving current hukou management problems”, where the reforming “two system huko policy” mandate originated.

    -进展缓慢,附加到户口上的各种利益、隐藏于户籍制度背后的各种制度才是根本所在。”中国社会科学院人口研究所副所长张车伟研究员接受记者采访时说,“尤其是一些大中城市,真实原因就是公共财政拒绝迁入人口的侵占。
    Slow development is rooted in the hiddent benefits associated with hukou”, according to China Academy of Social Sciences deputy chair of population study, Zhang Junwei, “especially mid to large cities, the real reason is public financing’s refusal to become involved in population annexation.”

  2. Raj Says:

    Charles, maybe you can explain – why was Zhang Hong forced out of his job and why did the censors act to remove the editorial from various websites? Do you agree with what the censors did and do you agree or disagree with Zhang’s views?

  3. Jason Says:

    What is the percentage of farmers of getting the urban hukou by the way?

  4. pug_ster Says:

    Raj,

    Nobody here knows why zhang hong was (or if he was) let go. Wall street journal is not exactly put out unbiased stuff pertaining china anyways. However, the issue with hukou has been discussed and recently discussions in the ccpcc recently. Premier wen announced that they are going to have reforms in the hukou system in many of the 2nd tier cities. At least that what I read in chinadaily last week.

  5. Nimrod Says:

    If there is no political leadership in aggressively reforming the hukou system, it is madness for people like Zhang Hong to be punished for trying to take on that role. The Chinese government and elite cannot forever monopolise dealing with such an important topic, given that it affects so many people. They have had their chance and squandered it – let ordinary people be heroes for the nation.

    I take issue with this. Like many important social issues, there needs to be a balance between urgency of reform and caution. Something like hukou, which on a political level is the analogous to the political problem of illegal immigration in advanced countries, is especially vulnerable to populist pandering. It is precisely that it affects so many people that one must consider all ramifications lest you have unresolvable problems with urban saturation, ghettoization, and drain on entitlements down the line for decades to come. The “elite” in the Chinese government are not far removed from the hukou system, they come from the rural provinces and they are the success stories of the system, and I would trust them over rabble rouser “heros” to have sound judgement about what the best way to proceed is. The “hukou” system, though unfair, is something that works well for China over the long term, without which second-tier cities will forever be the undeveloped “Mexico” to the “USA” of the first-tier cities, which are oversubscribed as is.

  6. Raj Says:

    pug_ster

    Nobody here knows why zhang hong was (or if he was) let go.

    Actually we do know why he was fired. Zhang Hong says as much in his article when he says he was “punished accordingly” – did you even bother to read it?

    So you’re either suggesting that Zhang Hong was not fired and that his entire rebuttal is a fantasy created by WSJ, or that he lied in the editorial when he said he was punished as a result of the editorial.

    Yeah, right…….

    However, the issue with hukou has been discussed and recently discussions in the ccpcc recently. Premier wen announced that they are going to have reforms in the hukou system in many of the 2nd tier cities.

    I know the CCP is discussing it. The problem is that they’ve sat on their hands for ages but want to monopolise the discussion. It has had decades to do something concrete about the hukou but decided not to. To start punishing people like Zhang Hong and try to censor his very reasonable opinion (and that of his colleagues) in the way they did was quite shameful.

  7. Wahaha Says:

    Raj,,

    how do you know he was fired ?

    how do you know that Colin Powell was not fired but resigned himself ?

    ____________________________________

    BTW, how does Hukou system benefit CCP more than the harm (the controvesy) it does ?

  8. pug_ster Says:

    Raj,

    According to the CNN article, Zhang Hong works for the Beijing’s Economic Observer. When I go to their website, I see an article from another author criticizing the hukou system 2 years ago.

    http://www.eeo.com.cn/ens/biz_commentary/2008/01/28/91995.shtml

    Perhaps Zhang Hong was let go for other reasons and he blamed on the Chinese government.

  9. Raj Says:

    Nimrod (5)

    There needs to be balance in everything, but why does this mean change must be slow today in 2010? How long has the CCP had to reform the hukou? It’s not like this is a problem that was created yesterday, it is something that has been in existence for some time and has always been under the complete control of the government. Eventually there comes a time when you have to beep your horn and tell the old biddy in front of you driving at 10mph that she’s holding everyone else up. In this case the CCP is the old biddy, shouting back at everyone that it’s safest to drive at 10mph.

    In any case, even if I agreed with you that everything still has to move slowly, why is it helpful to fire editors who publish such editorials and try to wipe their work from websites?

    So far in responding to both of Zhang Hong’s editorials all you’ve done is paint Zhang Hong a “rabble rouser”. Why have you done that, because he has written a critical editorial in the hope of generating change? That’s ridiculous. This was a cooperative effort, so are you saying that all these other people were “rabble rousers” too? That’s going to be a bit hard for you to explain why given that they didn’t submit their names. Also the target was the NPC – how are they a rabble? Or if the immediate target were Chinese netizens, does that make the Chinese internet population a rabble?

    As for the Chinese elite, where someone comes from has no bearing on whether they understand the common person’s troubles or will do anything about it. Plenty of politicians come from humble backgrounds but become corrupt and/or don’t work to benefit the most vulnerable members of society. Moreover, painting the Chinese elite as some sort of “rural success story” doesn’t say much for the system given that promotion to the top levels of the CCP relies greatly on patronage and impressing the right people, rather than winning in fair and open competition and/or direct election.

    Most important of all, it does not matter what the intentions of these people are. If by their actions they stifle important debate and hold up necessary change, it’s still bad.

    You suggest that the hukou is good, despite the fact that it is unfair, because it is somehow forcing people to stay in second-tier cities. I would like to know how you came to that conclusion, given that over 100 million Chinese migrant workers already move to wherever they find work. Clearly the hukou is not a deterrent.

    Besides, if you had a fool-proof hukou, growth in cities like Beijing, Shanghai, etc would grind to a halt because of a lack of workers. Clearly it’s necessary for workers to move around China to fill gaps in the labour market where they’re needed. If these people are needed where they go to, they shouldn’t be denied benefits/services offered to others just to make other Chinese feel better because they’re paranoid about change. The current system is making second-class citizens of the very people who more than anyone else have helped create China’s economic boom. Enough is enough.

    +++

    pug_ster (8)

    Wow, there has been criticism of the hukou before the recent joint editorial! So in China if you can criticise something just a bit you can also criticise it to the fullest extent? Come on, we all know that the censors will look the other way sometimes – they can’t/won’t censor everything, especially if it’s soft and skirts around the issue. The article you linked to is nowhere as direct/focused as the recent editorial.

    You also haven’t voiced an opinion on why the recent editorial was so awful the censors apparently tried to wipe it from the web.

    Sure, he lost his job immediately after the editorial for reasons unrelated to the editorial. It’s just a coincidence, as it always is when someone suffers after releasing something the government/censors don’t like. Hmm….

  10. r v Says:

    Raj,

    By the reverse of your logic, all the times any Chinese journalist criticized the Chinese Government and the “censors” ignored them, the Chinese government were approving them and fighting for human rights?!

    Surly, the coincidences run both ways! 🙂 LOL.

    By your logic, Zhang Hong should thank the Chinese Government for the years he had his job, and now he’s just EVEN!

    Hm… Censors allowing “journalists” at all in a tyrannical system like China’s. Wow! They must have been asleep at the wheel for decades. What a massive coincidence!

    Yes, there is always gremlins when machines don’t work right, and the Illuminati’s and the Free Masons and the Da Vinci Code.

    And of course, God or Vishnu.

    Maybe it’s the spirit of the “Hukou”. It’s p*ssed off because of all the constant complaints about it. One day, it had enough, came into our mortal plane of existence and sacked Zhang Hong.

  11. Wahaha Says:

    Besides, if you had a fool-proof hukou, growth in cities like Beijing, Shanghai, etc would grind to a halt because of a lack of workers. Clearly it’s necessary for workers to move around China to fill gaps in the labour market where they’re needed. If these people are needed where they go to, they shouldn’t be denied benefits/services offered to others just to make other Chinese feel better because they’re paranoid about change. The current system is making second-class citizens of the very people who more than anyone else have helped create China’s economic boom. Enough is enough.
    ______________________________________

    Typical moral crap, the same reason caused the downfalls of hundreds of cities in USA.

    Like 25 years ago, when ShenZhen SEZ was set up, it was criticized as benefiting the rich, not the people.

    BTW, Raj, you cant think of a reason why Hukou system has benefited CCP, can you ? like the one-child policy.

    There are 1.3 billion people in China, you cant improve people’s life at as same pace, unless you want communism. That is common sense.

  12. Bridge Says:

    @ Raj #6,
    Sorry for not being able to understand your reasoning, but as you said, in Zhang Hong’s own article, he says he was ‘punished accordingly’. How is ‘punished accordingly’ equal to ‘fired’? Even if he is, eventually, no longer the editor, how do we know that he was ‘fired’? And how do we know if he was fired solely because of that article?

  13. Nimrod Says:

    Raj wrote:

    So far in responding to both of Zhang Hong’s editorials all you’ve done is paint Zhang Hong a “rabble rouser”. Why have you done that, because he has written a critical editorial in the hope of generating change? That’s ridiculous. This was a cooperative effort, so are you saying that all these other people were “rabble rousers” too? That’s going to be a bit hard for you to explain why given that they didn’t submit their names. Also the target was the NPC – how are they a rabble? Or if the immediate target were Chinese netizens, does that make the Chinese internet population a rabble?
    +++++
    Ok, a couple things, the phrase “rabble rouser heros” was referencing your assertion that “heros” should take over when elites do not move fast enough for them (and according to them). That’s your typical progressive rhetoric, which I don’t subscribe to. In fact, time and time again, it is shown that social changes come about when the conditions are right, and there is no sense (and often much destruction followed by regression) when you try to outpace them with a so-called “progressive agenda” or “revolution.” And yes, the Chinese internet population is a rabble, indeed, the quintessential definition of a rabble.

    Progressive thought can be a valuable input to the political system, if their demands and concerns are unknown. I don’t think this is the case here. And if indeed their aim was to move the government, they could have more effectively lobbied their patrons in government directly. Most of governing happens behind closed doors. Most of the useless political show happens in public. (I thought somebody from the UK who has watched “Yes, Minister” might appreciate this way of putting it.) And the annual “two meetings”, like any state-of-the-nation sessions in other countries, cannot be anything more than political theater, as is a joint editorial calling for the NPC to act (if it actually happened like that, which we don’t know). The real work takes years. So I am only left to conclude that either the editorials were aimed at the public with the intention of putting pressure on, causing embarassment for certain factions in the government during the “two meetings” (which actually makes concensus governing more difficult), or it was made simply to cause a “significant” milestone for the Chinese news sector, as Global Times claims. In any case, perhaps the editorials should have stayed despite all this, but given the delicate nature of the hukou reform, and the ill timing, at least I’m not as surprised as you are that something that might rouse the rabble would be suppressed. After all, the editorial didn’t offer up anything new policywise, except to stake a claim for the right of free movement for all people. That’s nice and all, but we need to be realistic.

    Finally, hukou reform has been happenening. As the editorial itself points out, the hukou system is no longer a restriction for the rural population in second-tier cities, as of 2001. How is that going to gel with your perception of a government idle at the switch? Second-tier cities are where urbanization should be taking place, and while the first-tier cities need some migrant workers for development and service, and they have come despite difficulties, there certainly needs to be no more incentives in that direction. They cannot grow forever. That’s not where investment should be going. The real estate prices there should be a hint that maybe people should stay away. Beijing is already going out to the 7th ring, it’s just wrong.

  14. Charles Liu Says:

    Can someone remind Raj about that Chinese-German lady reporter, and what happened to her? Let’s compare and contrast between the two. The PD reporter, Li Zhongfong, who wrote the 2007 article (see comment 1) calling for hukou reform and reported the slow reform is due to reluctance by public financing to absorbe cost of social benefits, still reports today.

    And add to what Nimrod said, some metropolitian areas in China have already eased migration restriction via local legislation, out of economic necessity. For example Zhuhai, Nanjing, Xi’an in 2002.

  15. Raj Says:

    r v (10)

    You forget that the role of censors is not to approve every piece of news as being what they see as “good”, it’s only to block things they deem political, morally, etc wrong.

    +++

    Wahaha (11)

    The hukou has been in force for a long time, we can clearly see the benefits/problems that it has caused. Come join us in the 21st century.

    The CCP did benefit originally from the hukou by being able to limit the movements of Chinese people. It feared allowing free movement would aid free movement of ideas. As to how it benefits now, why don’t you write to Hu Jintao and supply us his response.

    +++

    Bridge (12)

    I don’t know for sure that he was fired because of the editorial, but then I’m not sure of so many things in the world. If we were to disbelieve everything we heard/read because we couldn’t verify it ourselves, how could we blog on much other than a description of what we did that day?

    In the absense of evidence suggesting that Zhang Hong was not fired or that he was fired because of something else, I will work on the basis of the information available. Which is that he says he was punished after the editorial and that it was reported he was fired.

  16. Raj Says:

    Nimrod (13)

    Thanks for the more detailed response.

    Actually allowing someone other than the elite to do something is more than being progressive, it’s also anti-authoritarian. But in any case the suggestion is not that Zhang Hong take over the administration of the hukou, so your point is not correct. It’s that he and others be able to generate discussion. In the end the elite will still make the decision about how things change if at all, but I do not see why they must control the discussion as well.

    Just because sometimes things change at the right pace doesn’t mean they always do. Sometimes nanny knows best, other times she doesn’t care or is sadistic and abuses those who should be under her protection.

    I would like to see you to go to a popular Chinese forum and accuse the members of being a rabble – the response would be amusing.

    Whilst I agree that lobbying can help, it doesn’t always work. You’re assuming that these people all had handily placed “patrons” (who?) or that they had not contacted them before. You’re making two assumptions without anything apparent to support them. As for governing behind closed doors, the Chinese government is extremely sensitive to popular opinion and has made U turns/policy changes based on the views of Chinese people. All politicians are self-interested, and if you had watched Yes, Minister! much you would remember that Jim Hacker frequently did things because he thought they would be popular. And whilst the NPC meetings are in most ways a theatre, as a journalist it was a good idea to pretend he was appealing to it as an official body. Of course he didn’t expect it to suddenly change/overturn the hukou.

    Just because I was not surprised that this happened does not mean that I cannot disagree with the removal of the editorials and punishment of Zhang.

    As for your accusation that I perceive the government to be idle at the switch, that is not the case – I likened it to an old granny driving along slowly, i.e. it could act faster to alleviate the suffering of those who fall foul of the hukou.

    You complain about the size of Beijing, and it is big – but the hukou isn’t stopping its growth. If there is too much investment going into some places, you need to provide positive incentives for putting your money elsewhere or moving to those locations. You should not punish people because they are trying to get work to give their families a better life. At the very least you should take action against the corporations who are driving the growth in the big cities. If they move shop the workers will follow them.

    If you do care about the way China is urbanising you would look towards new policies. The hukou isn’t working so there’s no reason why it cannot be abandoned. But I guess the CCP/Chinese government is too embarrassed that it has failed so it’s hoping it can tinker with a broken policy, rather than ditch it and come up with something new that will work.

  17. pug_ster Says:

    Raj,

    The CCP did benefit originally from the hukou by being able to limit the movements of Chinese people. It feared allowing free movement would aid free movement of ideas. As to how it benefits now, why don’t you write to Hu Jintao and supply us his response.

    No offense, ‘free movement of ideas’ sounds a little ludicrous. I think many would agree that the hukou system was established to slow down the creation of urban slums that has plagued many large cities, like in Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Caracas and etc…

  18. Wahaha Says:

    It feared allowing free movement would aid free movement of ideas.
    _____________________________________________________________

    Are you out of your mind ?

    You mean the ideas of those peasants?

  19. r v Says:

    Raj,

    “You forget that the role of censors is not to approve every piece of news as being what they see as “good”, it’s only to block things they deem political, morally, etc wrong.”

    In other words, you think it was just coincidence that the “Censors” would even allow journalists in China.

    And your logic is rather questionable, “only to block things”, and “not to approve every piece”?

    How does your logic define a coin with only 1 side?

  20. Raj Says:

    Wahaha (18)

    More the possibility of the peasants getting ideas from others. It’s possible for people to learn things, as hard as you might find it yourself.

    But I tell you (and pug_ster) what, let’s assume for a moment that the CCP brought the hukou in for not just good but completely selfless reasons. That has no relation to what needs to be done today and does not counter the fact that the hukou clearly is not stopping urbanisation in the “wrong” places – see my post # 16. It simply doesn’t work and needs replacing, especially if the growth of cities like Beijing is a critical problem.

    +++

    r v (19)

    The censors don’t make a decision as to whether journalists should exist in China, the government does. Strangely enough bodies like the Standing Committee make policy, whereas the censors are expected to enforce it.

    Also it is completely possibly for someone to screen something purely on a few criteria – e.g. whether something is too critical on a certain political topic – whilst making no decision on its quality, whether they agree with it, etc. Just as the admin and Steve on this blog are our equivalent censors. The fact they don’t delete your comments doesn’t mean that they approve or agree with them.

    That’s more than just logic, that’s a basic understanding of how things work in China and indeed how people work.

  21. jxie Says:

    The household registration system, in various forms, has been in existence for millennia in China. Initially it was a means to organize the nations or kingdoms militarily. Later it started serving other purposes as well, including the ancient Chinese’s “social security” such as:

    * supporting untended seniors.
    * providing for orphans and homeless, etc.
    * for those Chinese who went to overseas and resettled back, or foreigners approved to settle in China by the central government, the provincial governments needed to provide them clothing, food and land.

    FWIW, the ancient Confucianism “social security” system with the emphasis of family and the society as a backstop, had been proven financially sustainable for centuries in different dynasties.

    Migration from one area to another was possible but limited. Some dynasties were freer than the others. For example, in Song, it was possible to register in a different area by:

    1. Being employed by a large and rich family — registering under that family.
    2. Becoming a property owner and registering in the new area.

    As of today, among the nations/regions in the former Confucianism circle, Japan, Taiwan, & mainland China still have household registration systems. In Japan and Taiwan, you can freely move from one area to another, and register with the new local government. In mainland, today the movement is still limited but getting gradually less so. In Korea, once it had the least progressive and in a way quite bizarre household registration system — for example, the former president Roh actually didn’t have Seoul residency after the end of his term; or if a woman was divorced she would still be registered under her former husband’s household. In 2008, Korea decided to abandon the household registration system totally.

    IMHO, the modern-day Japanese household system may be what mainland China should learn from. This kind of goes full circle — the initial Japanese household system was almost a carbon copy of Tang’s. Korea’s fate in the future, on the hand, is uncertain.

  22. Wukailong Says:

    @Nimrod (#13): I’m not sure exactly what you are saying about real estate prices and migrant workers. Real estate prices in Beijing, Shanghai and other places are crazy because of uncontrolled investment and the enormous political clout real estate companies have acquired over the last decade, rather than the influx of too much migrant workers.

    I’m for gradual reform of the hukou system, and obviously Wen Jiabao said during the two meetings that there will be further reforms, and Zhou Yongkang (of all people) have put forth the need to proceed in this area:

    http://www.cser.org.cn/index.php/2010-01-09-07-20-05/2010-01-09-07-42-13/1319-2010-02-16-15-49-59

    So things seem to be going forward. The problem when discussing these things is that we have to understand that everybody doesn’t mean the same thing with “being cautious”. It means “we’re just going to rest on our laurels” or “we are slowly reforming” depending on who says it.

    Btw, if we are comparing with illegal immigration in the US, I think most people would agree that that system is horribly broken, as is your health system.

  23. pug_ster Says:

    #20 Raj,

    I never said that the Hukou system will stop mass urbanization of poor rural people to the city, but to slow it down. If China gets rid of the Hukou system, what will stop the mass urbanization of the poor people to the tier one cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen? The demands of social and economic of the new migrants will simply cripple the city. Unlike a big city like Mumbai, a major city like Shanghai has largely avoided the problem of urban slums because of the Hukou.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6469473.stm

    China’s leaders are right and they should be developing the urban areas, as well as the 2nd and tier cities so rural people can settle there instead of the Tier 1 cities.

  24. Raj Says:

    pug_ster (23)

    The hukou system is not working, and there is no hard evidence that I’ve seen to suggest that it has a significant effect on slowing migrant workers moving to the cities. What the hukou does is punish some of the poorest people in China for seeking work when there might not be any elsewhere. China needs workers to move where the demand is. Development in other regions of China will not be spurred by punishing migrants through the hukou.

    The best way to form a just society whilst also keeping China’s development going is to push the companies that are concentrating their work in already developed areas to move elsewhere. That can be done through business incentives (e.g. lower tax) and/or disincentives if they don’t move. When they move the workers will follow them. The government could also consider tax breaks for migrant workers who move to less developed areas where there is work, or it could pump in extra funds for schools and hospitals to make those locations more desirable to live in.

    The stick isn’t working, try carrots!

  25. pug_ster Says:

    Raj,

    Oh yeah, sure it works. First of all, you didn’t answer the question about the problem with the slums. Second, if you look at the slums in Mumbai situation, I am sure that developers tried to move them out without success.

  26. r v Says:

    Raj,

    “The censors don’t make a decision as to whether journalists should exist in China, the government does. Strangely enough bodies like the Standing Committee make policy, whereas the censors are expected to enforce it.”

    Oh, all the sudden, the “censors” are somehow separated from the “Government”?

    In that case, what do the “censors” have to do with the “government” not liking something, as you were implying?

    Again, how is not “censoring” not the same as “approving”?

    And how do you define a coin with only 1 side?

  27. Bridge Says:

    @Raj #15
    Thanks for confirming for me that you really did not know if Zhang was fired BECAUSE of the article. That’s all I wanted to know.
    Btw, I was only questioning your reasoning, nothing else.

  28. Raj Says:

    pug_ster (25)

    If the hukou is designed to stop the overcrowding of Chinese cities, yet people like Nimrod are saying places like Beijing are already too overcrowded, clearly the hukou cannot be working.

    As I said, new policies are required to replace the hukou. First, positive ones to encourage workers to move to other cities – new, free schools, health care, etc. Second, positive and/or punitive ones to get companies to move elsewhere so that the demand for jobs is there. This can be done through different levels of taxation, investment opportunities, how loans are provided by banks/government, control of State-owned enterprises, etc. The central government has a huge amount of power to wield to get this done.

    Bridge (27)

    As I said, how can we be sure of anything in the world if we refuse to believe anything that the media and/or people say? If you’re a really jaded cynic, ok, but if you’re willing to accept things that you read then perhaps you can explain why you’re unsure of the circumstances here. Thanks.

  29. pug_ster Says:

    Raj,

    I never said that hukou was designed to stop overcrowding in Chinese cities, but rather slowing down the creation of slums. There are many Chinese cities out there which are overcrowded but are not slums, like in Hong Kong.

  30. sids Says:

    Raj

    You do know that China has 3-4 cities in excess of 10million population (beijing, Shanghai, guangzhou and Zhenjeng)when most country beside India will lucky to have one , and around 10 city range from 2mil-7mil, around 10 range from 2mil-1mil and atleast 30odd between 500k-1mil. No matter how you look at it Chinese city will always be overcrowded compare to any countries in the world except India. They are not as concerntrated as you think.

    Heck in Australia (where i live) similiar size of China in term of land, the Greens (federal political party) are complaining that if our projected population from 25mil to hit 35mil by 2050 we will have big problem on providing the essential need like housing, hospital beds, water, public transport ect to the population.

    Go tell them as your quote above “As I said, new policies are required to replace the hukou. First, positive ones to encourage workers to move to other cities – new, free schools, health care, etc. Second, positive and/or punitive ones to get companies to move elsewhere so that the demand for jobs is there. This can be done through different levels of taxation, investment opportunities, how loans are provided by banks/government, control of State-owned enterprises, etc. The central government has a huge amount of power to wield to get this done.”

    You know why it doesnt work, because not only it cost money to startup, it cost alot of money to maintain those services and no revenue income.

  31. sids Says:

    My above rant has did not address the topic it was just a rant seeing how naive Raj was.

    Back on topic. There is no reason for the government to remove the Hukou system at all. You say the Hukou system didn’t stop people from overcrowding the city. But you miss one point it hasn’t overcrowded to a point where the government need to step in so far. Its a trump card that they should hold onto just incase they need to use it. You know how many people will register their kids to schools in the big city if Hukou system is remove, what about better hospital in the big city will they also get overcrowded if the Hukou is remove?

  32. Steve Says:

    I’m a little confused. Aren’t we discussing several topics here that are really separate from each other?

    1) Did Zhang Hong lose his job because of the hukou criticism?
    2) If he did, should he have lost it for that reason?
    3) Is the hukou system functioning at this time or is it already broken?
    4) If so, what are the alternatives to the present system?
    5) Should that discussion take place behind CCP doors or should it be discussed in public forums?

    From Raj’s article and the comments so far, what I’ve gathered is:

    1) Probably
    2) Maybe, maybe not, depending on your POV.
    3) Not functioning as it was intended to originally or as it had functioned for the majority of its existence.
    4) Not really discussed much. So far it seems to be keep it as it is or dismantle it completely. I haven’t heard much in the middle, excepting Nimrod’s excellent comment #13.
    5) Raj wants it out in the open, though some think that would cause trouble.

    From my own observations living in China and traveling from place to place on business, it seems the hukou system isn’t working as it was originally intended and that tens if not hundreds of millions of people have already moved to cities, they are just not “officially” there. I know if you have an advanced education and get a good job offer, you can get a transfer from your original village or city to the new location. Many of our employees were from other parts of China and used their employment status with us to do so. However, it seemed that the construction workers and other manual labor jobs were held by migrants whose status there was “unofficial” and who didn’t have residency rights for themselves or their families.

    So we already know that mass migration in the country has taken place IN SPITE OF the hukou system. So what to do about it? If China keeps things as they are, then enormous numbers of people will be living “off the books”, as it were, and their children will lack education and proper medical facilities. I think most of us would agree this isn’t a good thing. On the other hand, completely free movement of workers might overwhelm the Tier One cities which are already pretty much overwhelmed by the people currently there. If all these “illegal” workers were sent home, construction would pretty much stop and economic panic ensue until a new system was put in place.

    So I guess I’d be most interested to hear what everyone thinks about my point #4. I’m certainly not surprised that Zhang Hong was fired/let go/quit/whatever after this editorial. Whether you agree or disagree, it’s par for the course so I’m not sure what we can really discuss. The CCP isn’t about to start allowing open discussion of major policy decisions in the press anytime soon.

  33. Charles Liu Says:

    Steve, I don’t believe the statement “China keeps things as they are” is quite correct. Anyone knows China knows China changes every few years and things don’t stay as they are.

    China’s hukou system is no exception, in its short 60 year history. Anyone can use the Baidu search link provided in comment 1 to find varieties of articles on hukou system’s history, the changes took place, and the fact hukou was initially created for census purpose, not to restrict flow of population or ideas:

    – Prior to 1954 migrations were free. China’s constitution initially contained provision for free migration and settlement.

    – Hukou system began in June 1955 with mandate for national registry systm, requiring cities, towns, villages to register households.

    – Between 1956, 1957, 4 laws were passed to limit and control farmers blindly flowing into the cities.

    – From 1958 to 1979, migration were restricted. Migration were resticted beginning Jan 1958, where proposal to modify hukou into “city/rural registries” and “maternal local registry”, both have since ruled as unconstutional.

    – In 1975 constutional amendment removed free migration provision.

    – Migration became semi-open after 1978. In 1984 farmers in the villages were officially allowed to move to townships, villagers in textile work or trade were allowed to migrate to cities. In 1985 NPC passed law to allow 0.02% of rural residence to convert residency to the city annually, begin the of modernizing of residency policy.

    – in 1994 city and rural dual-system hukuo registry was abolished. Three types of migratory residency (frequent travler, short term residence, long term residence) were also established, furthering development of migrant management.

    – In June 1997 Public Security Bureau drafted migratory residency criteria for township (employment and business interest, purchase of home, kinship). July 1998 similiar criteria were established for migrating to the cities, adding provision for dependent children and elderly parents.

    – On March 23, 2001, migration to townships were no longer regulated.

    (excerpts translated from PD article cited above.)

    To give some perspective, America’s racial segeration laws, Jim Crow, took 90 years to abolish after emancipation.

  34. Wukailong Says:

    @Charles: “Anyone knows China knows China changes every few years and things don’t stay as they are.”

    Depends on what it is. Some things that have changed are the requirements to stay legally in your living quarters. Back in the good old days, before 2003, it was illegal for me as a foreigner to stay in “Chinese” housing (I could only stay in a place that was way more expensive for about the same quality). Or rather, it was legal if you registered, but the police wouldn’t let you register. The police relied on the “ideology” (意识形态) in this case rather than the letter of the law. These days, however, it’s a formality – I went to the police station last week to register and it only took me five minutes.

    The red tape surrounding the hukou system haven’t changed much. The gray area might be more inclusive now, but it’s still a lot of hassle for Chinese citizens to do things the right way. Hopefully this will change in the future – especially the way the information is stored. Right now a hukou document is stored in an institution or a private company (a so-called “collective hukou”) and it makes very little sense to scatter it like this. If there was a reform to put these documents in some central depository, it would be much easier for everyone.

    @Steve: My answer to #4 will be a boring one: slowly reform the system so it gets less and less important where your hukou is, and create a centralized depository to keep the documents in one place. South Korea, Japan and Taiwan also have a hukou system in name, but it’s basically the same thing as everywhere else – a formality that only the tax authorities are interested in.

  35. pug_ster Says:

    An interesting opinion piece from Chinadaily about discussion of hukou system. The person who says that abolishing the hukou system is not feasible today is because of the financial obligations.

    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2010-03/22/content_9621922.htm

  36. Charles Liu Says:

    pug, Paul Kong wrote “It is not an easy task to grant 1.3 billion people equal access”

    This really struck a cord with me. As some of us know, health care reform bill to start giving some medical coverage to America’s permanent under class finally happened last night. This is after heavy resistance from Republicans and divisive opinions against Obama’s proposal last year, not to mention health care reform had been unsuccessful for 100 years in America, until now.

    Besides Kong, there are also reports inside China that said public financing of urban infrastructure and social benefits is a barrier to hukou reform.

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