Mobility is a new characteristic of the Chinese people. At least
ten percent of Chinese make up a "floating population" of migrants.
The number is estimated at between 100 to 200 million people, mostly
rural residents who migrate to cities in search of work. But most
of these migrants are poor and can not get any welfare because they
are outside the official "household registration system" or hukou.
system began in 1955-56 and was adopted into law in 1958. It was
originally set up to avoid overwhelming the cities of China with
At the time it was created, the new Chinese government, controlled
completely by the Chinese Communist Party ,
was busy building the unified nation that we know today from the
ruins left by the ineffective Kuomintang (Guomindang)
government led by Chiang Kai-shek and the various foreign governments
(Imperial Japan, the Soviet Union, USA) that had separately administered
large areas of the country.
Huge numbers of Chinese had nothing and the only chance of a life
lay in China's cities. But the new Chinese government was concerned
with rebuilding China from the ground up and made policies to revive
and develop agriculture.
Under the hukuo all Chinese got papers that classified them
as either "rural" or "urban" citizens. In order to receive many
state benefits, such as education or certain types of work permits,
you had to be an officially registered person in your town or rural
county. This essentially made it very hard to legally move around
Since the end of the Mao era, however, the hukuo system
has been recognized as a hindrance to the growth of China's cities
and bureaucratically impossible to administer.
Dismantling of the system began in test counties and towns in the
1990s and in October 2001, the entire system was relaxed. At the
end of 2001, the system was abolished in Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan,
Jilin, and Liaoning provinces.
Reform of the hukuo continues and many Chinese think tanks
and prominent citizens have called for its complete elimination.
But millions of Chinese depend on the hukuo system to ensure
their benefits in old age. This is a reason the hukuo is
being phased out gradually over time.
China is more urban today than ever before. Over 36% of Chinese
live in a city or large town and the urbanization rate is accelerating
rapidly. For example, the city of Shenzhen ,
a ninety minute train ride from Hong Kong, grew from a rice-growing
village in the late 1970s to a city of over three million people
The percentage of urban residents is expected to reach between
fifty and sixty percent in just twenty years. New national policies
call for the careful development of many mega-cities.