Insiders’ Entitlements: Formation of the Household Registration (huji/hukou) System (1949-1959)

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Deng, Jie
huji system , hukou system , household registration system , social inequality , party-state , The People's Republic of China
The distinctive household registration (hukou or huji) system of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) divides the population into two groups whose political rights and legal status are unequal. This thesis focuses on Shanghai to examine the establishment of the hukou system in the 1950s in the course of the rural and urban reforms led by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Although the system has been explained as a result of the CCP’s industrialization strategy, my investigation has led me to conclude that the hukou system was an indirect rather than direct consequence of industrialization. My examination also shows that “rural” and “urban” in the PRC are essentially neither residential nor occupational categories; rather they are closely connected with political privileges. The first part of this study focuses on the consequences of the CCP’s land reform and collectivization campaigns after 1949. During this period, a large number of people who had moved freely between urban and rural areas, playing active roles in both, were uprooted from the countryside. At the same time, the CCP carried out a series of expulsions from Shanghai and other cities. Hundreds of thousands of urban residents, particularly those lacking secure employment, were removed after being labeled as “undesirable.” Thus CCP policies turned the cities and the countryside into two separate worlds. Next the dissertation outlines how the PRC state evolved after 1949, focusing on those directly maintained on the government’s payroll in Shanghai. This group was small in the beginning but soon began to expand. During the 1950s, after taking over almost all public-service institutions, the state took steps to absorb private enterprises through the policy of “public-private joint operation.” A large cohort of workers was thus added to the state payroll. Following these changes, the cities had become home mainly to employees of the party-state, together with their dependents. The state provided various benefits to its insiders. At the same time, it reduced most of the rural population to a kind of serfdom, while putting in place a set of mechanisms to secure the boundary between insiders and outsiders.
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