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Benefits should spread to farmers

DATE:2014-12-22       SOURCE:China Daily

By Ding Yuanzhu (China Daily)


The Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council have issued a series of policies this year on the reform of the household registration (hukou) system.


The reform of the hukou system, which for long has prevented rural residents from permanently settling in cities and hindered urban-rural development, got a shot in the arm this year from the policies. And with the Party and governments at the local levels also exploring ways to reform the hukou system, 2014 has been a breakthrough year for the reform process.


The hukou reform is a complicated project that requires overall consideration and differential treatment depending on actual local conditions, such as the size of a population. So, cities and towns should implement hukou reform according to local capabilities and development potential, as well as the real conditions of farmers-turned-workers, including their length of service and period of residence in urban areas.


Under the premise of legal and stable employment and residence (including renting houses), restrictions on migrant workers on becoming permanent residents of small cities and towns should be completely lifted; in case of cities with populations between 500,000 and 1 million, they should be gradually lifted, and for big cities with populations between 1 and 3 million, they should be lifted to only a certain extent. The hukou restrictions in cities with populations between 3 and 5 million should be determined by the real conditions on the ground, while in those with populations above 5 million should be strictly controlled.


The aim should be to establish a unified household registration system both in urban and rural areas to break the urban-rural differential management system. And the public service system, including compulsory education, employment opportunities, pension, medical treatment and housing security - which is directly related to the hukou system - should be extended to the entire population.


To expedite the land system reform, the authorities have to focus attention on farmers. Using the premise of collective ownership of rural land, the authorities should try to separate land ownership from contract rights and management rights. To ensure that farmers' rights are not undermined and the country's food security is not compromised, the use of land should not be changed. And the transfer of land use rights should be voluntary and the money paid for it, adequate.


Land is a farmer's most precious possession. No wonder, the household contract responsibility system, implemented in 1978, invigorated farmers and boosted the rural economies. The new land system reform is expected to boost the rural economies further.


But the hukou reform faces many challenges. By the end of 2013, the country had 269 million migrant workers. So to ensure that the benefits of hukou reform reach all, the process has to be gradual and orderly. Another big problem the hukou reform faces is the fiscal system. The hukou system is not only an individual registration system but also a social welfare system. Under the existing fiscal system, local governments are not willing to take the financial responsibility for migrant populations. Therefore, for the hukou reform to be smooth in all areas, the authorities have to reform the fiscal and taxation system, as well as the public service system.


The author is a professor at and vice-director of the policy consultation department, Chinese Academy of Governance.

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