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One step forward, one step back for hukou reform

By Yu Jincui (Global Times)

08:15, June 19, 2012

The Beijing bike rental scheme recently became a target of public criticism despite its intention to facilitate public transportation and ease the city's gridlocked traffic.

According to the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport, there are currently a total of 2,000 bikes for rent in 63 locations near subway exits in Beijing's Chaoyang and Dongcheng districts. The number of bikes available for rent will reach 25,000 at the end of this year, but only residents with Beijing hukou (household registration) are eligible to rent these bikes under the current system, which means migrant workers, foreigners and tourists in Beijing do not have access to the service.

This regulation drew public outrage since it was circulated online Saturday. Yesterday, relevant authorities responded on the Beijing municipal government's Weibo account, claiming that during this test phase, the system can only identify the second generation of Beijing ID cards, and the next step will see everyone in Beijing get access to rental bikes.

Originally a population management mechanism, the hukou has increasingly become a barrier to equal status and social welfare in China. It is closely related to one's access to education, medical resources, and even right to purchase a house or vehicle in the metropolis.

China is making gradual progress toward promoting hukou reform. In big cities, the monopoly on welfare by hukou holders is being reduced. In 2010, Shanghai issued new policies on public housing. According to the new policies, as well as those with Shanghai hukou, other residents can rent public housing. In February, the General Office of the State Council issued a notice related to actively and steadily promoting the reform of the hukou management system, stressing that any policies related to employment, education and training should not be linked to the hukou.

But for a long while it will probably remain a reality that available resources are scarcer than people's demand for them. Whether it concerns the right to be admitted into a top university or rent a bicycle in Beijing, the hukou has to be the temporary way for distributing the available resources. But the government has to be aware of the discontent over discrimination that comes with the hukou.

Take the Beijing bike rentals as an example. Though it is easier to manage if the service is only available to people with a Beijing hukou, it is often outsiders, such as tourists, who are more in need of renting bicycles.

Eliminating the hukou welfare takes time, and in the process, governments should be cautious about the public sensitivity over the issue, otherwise their policies may bring negative effects even though its intentions are good.


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