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Functions of the household (hukou) registration system in mainland China Essay


The household registration system (hukou) was introduced in China to regulate the number of people moving from rural to urban areas. Its main functions were to control the migration of people and to help enforce the one child family planning policy.

Through this system, it was difficult for the people residing in rural regions to enjoy the facilities available in urban areas. Because of its discriminatory nature, it faced a lot of opposition and some reforms had to be conducted.

The reforms have led to a slight alteration of its functions in contemporary mainland China although the main one still remains as migration regulation. This paper is going to look at the functions of the hukou system in mainland China today.


Although the system is currently not as powerful as it was in the 1950’s, it continues to exist in some parts of mainland China. One of its functions is resource allocation among citizens. Through this system, the government decides how national resources are to be distributed.

An example is the sharing of gasoline between those in rural and those in urban areas. People in rural areas can access more of it than their urban counterparts. The urban dwellers are encouraged to use public transport since it is in good condition and it is cost effective.

They therefore receive lower gasoline rations than rural citizens. Economic development in mainland China has been achieved because of this function of resource allocation. This is in contrast to the past where those with rural hukou were denied access to a number of facilities (Fan 40).

The household registration system performs the vital function of population registration. Through the system, government is able to collect important data regarding its citizens. Such data is important for economic planning and resource allocation.

The hukou system serves the same purpose as the national identification systems used in other countries. It is also used to regulate business activity within mainland China. This is because it is a prerequisite for getting a business license. Therefore, before any citizen can start operating a business, the authorities can first assess the person through the information provided by the hukou and determine whether it is appropriate to give the license (Yusuf 81).

Regulation of internal migration is another function of the hukou system. People who wish to migrate from one region to another have to cancel their current hukou by applying for a certificate known as the Migrant Hukou Certificate. They use this certificate temporarily as they await a permanent Hukou.

It is only after the permanent hukou has been granted that the citizen can enjoy certain privileges (Huang, 141). Public services and certain types of employment are accessible depending on the type of permit a migrant holds.

Such restrictions especially on jobs discourage movement of people from one region to another particularly rural urban migration. Citizens therefore choose to move within a limited distance within which they can freely access resources.

The hukou system is mandated with the transfer of permits from rural to urban hukou. The system therefore controls the levels of unemployment. If people were free to migrate from rural to urban areas, there would be a problem of urban excess as experienced in other major towns of the world. The jobs available in the cities would therefore not be enough to cater for everyone leading high levels of unemployment and poverty (Dillon 64).

The hukou system performs the function of social control. There is at least one police officer at every police station whose duty is to control and regulate the hukou registration. There are also undercover police officers in each hukou who are expected by law to watch over households within such hukou.

The officers are responsible for updating information relating to each household member. Through this updated information, the police are aware of the people who require to be monitored closely within the society. The police have close contact with citizens and the overall effect of this is that national security is maintained at all times.

Through the computerized hukou system, it is possible for personal information to be shared among different police departments. The system therefore helps in communication between law enforcement agencies (Wang 46).

Maintenance of political stability is another function that the hukou system performs. Through the police, the hukou system helps to monitor each citizen therefore people have to maintain good conduct at all times to avoid scrutiny. This helps dictators within mainland China to exercise their power without any political unrest taking place.

The system also performs the function of environmental control. If people were allowed to freely move to urban centers, there would be environmental degradation due to overcrowding in such cities. Forest cover would have to be cleared to pave way for residential buildings (Wang 46).


It is therefore clear that because of the kind of data contained in the household registration system, authorities are able exercise control over citizens. It has however become easier for people to acquire urban hukou either through marriage or through inheritance from parents. One disadvantage of this system is that it poses a risk of conflict between urban and rural dwellers because of its discriminatory nature.

Works Cited

Dillon, Michael. Contemporary China: an introduction. London New York: Routledge, 2009.Print. Fan, Cindy. China on the move : migration, the state, and the household. London New York: Routledge, 2008.

Huang, Xiaoming. The institutional dynamics of China’s great transformation. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, England New York: Routledge, 2011. Wang Fei-Ling. organizing through division and exclusion: China’s Hukou system. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2005.Print.

Yusuf, Shahid. China urbanizes: consequences, strategies, and policies. Washington, D.C: World Bank, 2008.Print.

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Nelson, Rihanna. "Functions of the household (hukou) registration system in mainland China." IvyPanda, 5 Dec. 2019,

1. Rihanna Nelson. "Functions of the household (hukou) registration system in mainland China." IvyPanda (blog), December 5, 2019.


Nelson, Rihanna. "Functions of the household (hukou) registration system in mainland China." IvyPanda (blog), December 5, 2019.


Nelson, Rihanna. 2019. "Functions of the household (hukou) registration system in mainland China." IvyPanda (blog), December 5, 2019.


Nelson, R. (2019) 'Functions of the household (hukou) registration system in mainland China'. IvyPanda, 5 December.

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