Growing up in China, when I heard sayings like “xiang xia ren,” or roughly “country bumpkin,” in a disdainful tone in any usual Shanghainese conversation, I wondered about the historical cornerstone that justified this form of discrimination. Now, I believe it’s the hukou system, the family registration program in China that serves as a domestic passport for internal migration and holds certain records that identify a person as a resident of a specific area.
Although its original intention was to “maintain social order, protect the rights and interests of citizens and to be of service to the establishment of socialism” according to the People’s Republic of China Hukou Registration Regulation, its pragmatic nuances have long devoured the reasons of these benefits. Instead of maintaining the true “interests of citizens,” its interest is found in impeding the social (and physical) mobility of rural residents, denying them the opportunity to seek better living standards such as employments, education and other associated social benefits in areas outside of their hukou designation. Changing a hukou address to receive the social benefits in another region requires a long, tedious and expensive process that most Chinese citizens cannot afford.
This caste system demeans rural residents’ self-worth. This is shown as this system is implemented to allocate inexpensive labor forces to certain industrial and agricultural areas in China while preventing mass migration to more economically prosperous regions. But when some of these working class migrants landing in prosperous areas don’t yet have much knowledge of those regions’ cultures and manners, they’re often looked down by local people.
I believe the malices of hukou system could best find their origins in the reluctance of the government to moderate the rapid growth of only a few cities while ignoring the needs of numerous other, less developing areas. This is the direct cause that leads to why the flow of population exchanged between prosperous cities and rural areas is so unstoppable specifically in China: the benefits of living in the better one have surpassed the other. Thus, no matter what the government’s consolidated effort to improve the unequal exchange between industrial and agricultural power, it is only making social imbalance worse.
I believe that there either needs to be some form of government intervention that ends preferential treatment given to city residents, or the government must caution against exploiting labor force as the backbone for its manufacturing oriented economy.
Instead of exerting an excessive amount of control over its population, it would be better if the Chinese government provided better education, transportation, employment opportunities and welfare to these rural residents that in turn would make them want to stay and take pride in their residency.
I believe it’s extremely important that instead of focusing on where a person comes from, we embrace everyone’s diversities and differences as unique human beings and focus on who that person is. Everyone deserves opportunities, yet opportunities are not always given. But everyone deserves respect, and respect must be given.