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China editorials call for end to residency permit rules

By Shirong Chen
BBC China editor

One of the toilet-dwellers ( image courtesy Hu Yuanyong/Zhejiang Morning Express)
Living conditions are hard for migrants, this woman lives in a toilet

More than a dozen Chinese newspapers have published a joint editorial calling for the abolition of the household registration or "hukou".

This system limits rural migrants' access to services in China's more prosperous cities.

The appeal, which has attracted widespread support from internet-users, comes on the eve of the annual meeting of Chinese legislators later this week.

The hukou was introduced in the 1950s as a tool of central economic planning.

Discrimination

The editorial uses strong language, beginning by saying "long has China suffered from the ills of the hukou system!" and "all men were created free to move".

The hukou system registers every Chinese citizen according to their household origins as either town dwellers or country peasants.

Nowadays it is widely seen as a source of discrimination in terms of access to services like healthcare and education.

Since economic reforms began 30 years ago, many Chinese migrant workers have left the land to contribute to the country's rapid growth and industrialisation.

But they remain registered as rural dwellers and are not entitled to the same welfare as their city counterparts.

This has created social inequality.

The editorial says the system is unconstitutional and urges the people's deputies gathering in Beijing to overhaul it completely.

As well as being fairer, it says this would benefit China's economy as it would free up more labour and create more domestic demand.

The Chinese Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, admitted on Saturday that the bulk of the country's industrial workforce was now made up of migrant workers from the countryside.

However, it could take years to completely separate the hukou system from welfare provision, and eventually abolish it in the world's most populous country.



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