Mar 08, 2012 07:51 PM

Taking the Higher Ground for Hukou Reform

A proactive, stable reform path for China's household registration system, enshrined by the family "hukou" identification booklets in homes nationwide, has been eagerly anticipated for years. So the State Council's notice of reform steps in late February drew immediate attention and mainly positive comments from Internet forum participants and bloggers.

The notice laid out notable changes for hukou issuance. It said, for example, that anyone who moves for work or study from a traditional family residence to a county-level city, such as Longkou in Shandong Province, or a prefecture-level city, such as Shandong's Yantai, may apply for a new hukou in that locale.

Under another adjustment, local government policies affecting eligibility for jobs, education and work training in the future may no longer be linked to the hukou system. For example, any new school policies enacted by Yantai officials would have to apply equally to local residents and a newcomer from distant Sichuan Province.

And in citing the need to protect the land-use rights of China's farmers, the State Council notice said governments may no longer offer new hukous to farmers in exchange for land. This has been a practice in Chongqing, for example, where farmers with rural-area hukous were persuaded to swap land rights for urban hukous, clearing the way for property development.

These changes circulated as proposals for about a year among various government departments before being finalized by the State Council. The internal review process marked an improvement in terms of government transparency. And that reforms have been implemented for the 54-year-old hukou system is indicative of a political willingness to change.

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