Peking loosens urban housing restrictions

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The Independent Online
CHINA'S compulsory household registration system, which for nearly 30 years has strictly divided the population into urban and rural residents, is to be reformed to allow some farmers legally to live in small cities.

The hukou system, which was designed in the Fifties to stop peasants from flooding into the cities, has until now remained one of the most restrictive legacies of the centrally-planned Communist system. If an urban registered man marries a woman classed as a rural dweller, for instance, their children cannot legally live in the city.

These days, with tens of millions of under-employed farmers already drifting from city to city in search of work, and a thriving corrupt market in urban hukous 'bought' from local authorities, the Chinese government has finally decided to take the

first steps towards reforming the outdated and unworkable system.

Under the new proposals, expected soon, farmers who already have jobs and housing in towns and small cities up to county-capital size will be able to re-register as urban dwellers and give up their state-allocated farms.

Before China's economic reforms, it was nearly impossible to move to the cities because, without an urban registration, one received no ration coupons, making it impossible to buy food. There was also no point in moving because the state firms would not employ out-of-town vagrants. These days, the burgeoning private sector means that food can be bought freely, and private companies are on the look-out for cheap labour. About 960 million of China's 1.2 billion people are classified as rural residents, but it is officially estimated that up to 60 million have 'floated' from the countryside to the cities and towns. Dr Han Jun, an associate professor at the Institute of Rural Development at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that the hukou system had created an underclass of urban residents who, because they carry rural registration cards, have no legal status and no claim on education and health services, even after living in a city for many years. Rural migrants are forced to pay heavily for schooling and health care.