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Rural Society and Nongmingong 3

(2010-06-20 20:42:11)

Appendix 1: the hukou system


The hukou system went through several stages –

1949 to 1957, the more liberal stage, where a new 1954 Constitution guaranteed freedom of movement. But in practice through policies and regulations, restriction of movements already started.

1957-1978, stricter limitation on countryside-to-city mobility implemented. Different degrees of de-urbanization were also introduced and many educated city dwellers were sent to the countryside.

1979 to now, rural labors floated to the cities to seek work, but could not get their hukou transferred away from their original rural residence. Some resourceful get-rich-first former rural residents managed to change their hukou to small towns and provincial cities. There were talks of loosening up the hukou system at different level of the state in recent years. But the government department pivotal in the hukou reform was often the police, indicating it was still regarded mainly as a security issue.

Appendix 2: More on the hukou system

How the hukou system distorts reality

 By Wu Zhong

Asia Times 2007

China began to enforce the hukou system in 1953, shortly after the Communist Party came to power upon winning a civil war against the Kuomintang. A major purpose was to facilitate the implementation of a Stalinist-style socialist command economy.     

The rationale was that production was to meet their needs of the people rather than to seek profits. Overproduction was evil. Therefore, the government had to take care of not only production but distribution as well. But it had to have some idea about the needs of people in various sectors before it could map out production plans; hence came the idea of household registration.

The failure of Mao Zedong's "Great Leap Forward" movement in late 1950s forced China to impose food rationing. And gradually nearly everything was rationed because of shortages. The command economy became a rationing economy, for which the hukou system became indispensable. In turn, rationing made it even more rigid in that it was difficult for anyone to change his residency registration.

Because of shortages, the government could only provide food, housing, employment, medical care, education and social welfare to urban residents, leaving farmers to make it on their own. In China's agrarian tradition, peasants were believed to be able to live a self-sufficiently. Thus the hukou system was used to restrict rural residents from moving into cities, to curb the growth of the urban population and hence ease the government's burden.

It was thus ironic that while socialism was to eliminate social classes, the hukou system virtually fixed Chinese people into two big classes: urban citizens and rural residents or farmers. It was almost impossible for a rural resident to change categories. His big chance was to pass the tough university entrance exams so that he could be assigned a job in a city after graduation. Nor could an urban citizen freely change his registration from one city to another, particularly from a smaller city to a bigger one.

The registration of a newborn baby, no matter where he was born, followed that of his parents. But if one of his parents was a rural resident, more often than not, the baby would be registered as a rural resident.

During Mao's times, this rigid system was also used as an effective instrument in restricting social mobility. Not only was a citizen's freedom to migrate to another place stripped away, his freedom to travel inside the country was also restricted. One had to live in the place where he was registered, and could not travel to another place without permission.

It is ridiculous that such a system should remain largely intact despite the fundamental changes to both the economy and society that have been brought by economic reform and opening up over the past nearly three decades. Today, Chinese

citizens, including rural residents, are free both to travel and to migrate across the country - but they are still not allowed to change their registration easily.

Such a situation is particularly unfair to rural migrant workers. Since the early 1980s, vast numbers of farmers have left their land to work and live in cities. According to official estimates, the number of such rural migrant workers is now more than 200 million, with at least half of them "permanently" settled in the cities. It is expected that in the next several years, an additional 100 million or even more rural migrants will move to cities.

But in reality, the obsolete system means that rural migrant workers, no matter how long they have lived in cities, or if their children have been born and raised in the cities, are not regarded as urban citizens. Their registration still classifies them as rural residents, and so they are not entitled to the same rights and benefits that urban citizens enjoy. Rural migrants are therefore only the cheap labor that contributes to the prosperity of the cities but is not allowed to benefit from it.

Municipal governments in China nowadays like to boast their achievements by using the growth of the local per capita gross domestic product. While rural migrants make contributions to the local economy, city governments do not include all of them in their calculation of local per capita GDP, so the figure could be inflated.

For instance, more than 10 million people now are estimated to be living in Shenzhen, but only 1.5 million are registered to live there. Three million have permanent residency, while the rest, more than 5 million, remain classified as migrant workers, which means they are "aliens", despite the decades some have spent there.

The Shenzhen police force is staffed to serve a population of about 3 million, which is a big reason for the deterioration of social order there.

Wang Chunguang, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, says that if discrimination against rural migrants is not eliminated, social problems will continue to fester.

"Many of them have lived and worked in cities for more than 20 years now and have lost their farmland and their farming skills. If the cities where they have worked ... for so many years do not accept them, where shall they go?" said Wang.

When urbanization is taking away land from more and more farmers, driving them into cities, if  they are not urban citizens, what are they? By definition, urbanization means the process by which the proportion of city residents in an entire population expands. By this definition, the more than 100 million rural migrant workers definitely must be considered as urban dwellers. The hukou system simply distorts the reality.

Seeing the problem, the central government in 1992 began to consider scrapping the distinction between urban and rural residents. But no progress was made in the decade that followed. In late 2005, the Ministry of Public Security, which oversees hukou, pledged to pilot the reform in some provinces. But months later it said it was up to the local government to make the changes in their systems.

However, it is in the city governments where the resistance is strongest. It means the municipal government would have to spend extra funds to expand facilities and public services to accommodate growth. For instance, Shenzhen would have at least to triple its police force to maintain social order at the minimal level, not to mention updating other public facilities and services in the city.

Hence for a city government the hukou system remains a strong defense line for its prosperity.

 From this perspective, to ask a city government to initiate reform would be somewhat like "asking a tiger to give away its fur", as a Chinese saying puts it. Therefore, it is necessary that the reform be enforced directly by the central government.

Apparently, the outdated system has become a source of social injustice in that it leads to discrimination of rural migrant workers. Social injustice threatens social harmony. To implement Hu's idea of building up a "harmonious society", social injustice must be corrected. Consequently, ahead of the 17th Party Congress, which is to endorse Hu's idea as the party's line, there is hope in China that reform will soon be on its way - and this time, it will not be just another case of crying wolf.

Appendix 3: nongmin in Chinese history

In traditional Chinese society, especially since late Western Han dynasty (around 100 BCE), nongmin was boxed-in as one of the 4 classes of peoples (四民) in a highly inmobile Chinese society.  

A person in the rural area was “like a tree”, according to Wang Xuetai (王學泰). That person was not supposed to leave the soil of his birth. This was the salient feature of Chinese clan (宗法) system and small-scale peasant economy. Through taxes, the surplus value if any of the rural populace was extracted by the bureaucrats, and together with occasional collective enforced labor, gave rise to the bureaucratic state and urban centers, where a small class of artisans, merchants and literati people also resided. Particularly since the Song dynasty, literate rural children could hope to change his class status and became a learned official (士大夫) serving the bureaucracy through taking civil service recruitment examinations. But aside from this narrow path, a rural subsistence farmer was not supposed to go anywhere.

 Before 1949, farmers called themselves self-cultivating farmers (自耕農)share tenant (佃農) or just a farming person (農夫). Nongmin or peasants as a socio-political revolutionary class was the construction of the Maoist communist ideology.

Ironically, though honoring peasants as a revolutionary class, the People’s Republic of China inherited and further instituted strict immobility of the rural populace through the hukou system.

During the first 30 years after the often-violent land reform, nongmin were at times allowed to own production means and tend their own lot, while at other times the means and lots were collectivized to a different degree. But all along they were not supposed to leave their land, and their surplus value were appropriated by the apparatchiks in the name of nation-building and fed to industrialization and the cities.

In the initial years of the People’s Republic, a new constitution gave all nationals the right of movement. It was not enforced. After 1957, restrictions were worse and led to dual economy and great disparity between the cities and the countryside. The right of movements was taken out in the revised 1975 constitution.

In late 1970s, 18 farmers from an obscure village in the poverty-stricken Anhiu province famously de-collectivized some farm land and means of production. That event was significant for the subsequent reform and opening-up but for our purpose it did not change the immobile condition of the rural populace.

 Then came the reform and opening up. A rural collective in Zhejiang province started township enterprises and was soon followed by other rural collectives and entrepreneurs. Township enterprises did not live up to its initial potential of lifting enough rural settlers out of poverty. They were not competitive enough in a more open market.

Market economy picked up steam in the 1980s and again after the spring of 1992. When manufacturing, infra-structure building and real estate construction called for manual labors, able-bodied rural settlers rushed to the cities. At first they were dismissingly called mangliu (盲流blind floaters). They were in fact the harbinger of something unprecedented in Chinese society – the beginning of the process of breaking down the immobility of the rural society.

They were also called wailaigong (外來工 laborer from other places)mingong (民工) and eventually nongmingong.

 With demand for manufacturing and service labor grew, young women from rural areas also floated to Guangdong and other coastal provinces and were mockingly called dagongmei (打工妹work-for-pay maids). Together they turned China into the factory of the world and contributed to economic growth, China model-style.

Appendix 4: youmin and liumin

 According to Wang Xuetai, youmin traditionally were jobless or unattached urban settlers, not a rural phenomenon, and liumin appeared when there were war, famine or plague, when residents of one place were collectively displaced and floated to another place to seek security, food and shelter.

Compared to the urban youmin, nongmingong are from the rural areas and though they may have worked in the cities for many years, they are not accepted as embedded urban settlers, much less as loafing wanderers within the cities.

Unlike liumin, nongmingong appeared in the time of peace and abundance. Food supply has exceeded demand in China since the early 80s, and there was no massive starvation or civil war. They floated away from their native land in search of works in higher pecuniary terms, Though there are patches of labor-intensive industries in rural areas, they are exceptions to the rule. Most works are in urban areas.

Appendix 5: nongmingong literature -- some poets and novelists

*Zheng Xiaoqiong郑小琼,poet and a member of Guangdong Political Consultancy Conference我不断地试图用文字把打工生活的感受写出来/它的尖锐总是那样的明亮/像烧灼着的铁一样/不断地烧烤着肉体与灵魂《铁》, 它巨大的暴力在我内心留下深陷/它似巨雷碾过,交谈中/我感觉有一种无形的力量/从四周压了过来/幽暗处的洪水/正挤压着我肉体与灵魂/鸟的翅膀与鱼的水域/花朵的香气也被局限/在一张扭曲,变形的门/在它低垂的弯拱中/我们每天弯腰躬身活着《非自由》。

*Zhang Shaomin张绍民, poet一家人之间的距离可能等于火车 亲人之间的远》,妈妈的手刚一分神想你,就被机器咬出了血 加班》

*Liu Qinbang刘庆邦,novelist,《神木》(拍成电影《盲井》)

*Cao Zhenglu曹征路,novelist,《那儿》、《问苍茫》、《当代》

*Ma Jinglian馬金蓮,novelist,《賽麥娘的春天》





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