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The Hukou System and Rural-Urban Migration in China: Processes and Changes*


Until recently, few people in mainland China would dispute the significance of the hukou (household registration) system in affecting their lives – indeed, in determining their fates. At the macro level, the centrality of this system has led some to argue that the industrialization strategy and the hukou system were the crucial organic parts of the Maoist model: the strategy could not have been implemented without the system. A number of China scholars in the West, notably Christiansen, Chan, Cheng and Seiden, Solinger, and Mallee, have begun in recent years to study this important subject in relation to population mobility and its social and economic ramifications. Unlike population registration systems in many other countries, the Chinese system was designed not merely to provide population statistics and identify personal status, but also directly to regulate population distribution and serve many other important objectives desired by the state. In fact, the hukou system is one of the major tools of social control employed by the state. Its functions go far beyond simply controlling population mobility.

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Ren Xianliang , “China's ‘registration taboo’,” translated in Chinese Sociology & Anthropology, Vol. 29, No. 1 (1996), pp. 1526.

Kam Wing Chan , “Economic growth strategy and urbanization policies in China, 1949–82,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Vol. 16, No. 2 (1992), pp. 275305.

Hein Mallee , “China's household registration system under reform,” Development and Change, Vol. 26 (1995), pp. 129

Kam Wing Chan , “Rural-urban migration in China, 1950–1982: estimates and analysis,” Urban Geography, Vol. 9, No. 1 (01021988), pp. 5384.

Kam Wing Chan , “Urbanization and rural-urban migration in China since 1982: a new baseline,” Modern China, Vol. 20, No. 3 (1994), pp. 243281

Sulamith Heins Potter , “The position of peasants in Modern China's social order,” Modern China, Vol. 9 No. 4, (1983), pp. 465499.

Kam Wing Chan , “Post-Mao China: a two-class urban society in making,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Vol. 20, No. 1 (1996), pp. 134150

Dorothy Solinger , “‘Temporary residence certificate’ regulations in Wuhan, May 1983,” The China Quarterly, No. 101 (1985), pp. 98103.

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The China Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0305-7410
  • EISSN: 1468-2648
  • URL: /core/journals/china-quarterly
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