Across the Institutional Passage of Migration: The Hukou-System in China


  • Rumin Luo



China, a country with a population of 1.37 billion (of which 19.51 percent are internal migrants), has recently experienced tremendous economic development, with an average annual GDP growth rate of 10 percent over the past 30 years. For more than 60 years, the present Hukou (household registration) system has operated as an important institution that regulates the mobility of the Chinese people and is used as a basis for distributing social services between rural and urban areas. Migrants experience vast inconsistencies caused by the country’s dual economic structure and the Hukou system. By illustrating how the Hukou system is constructed and functions as an institution, I will explain, why and how the Hukou system, has both temporal and spatial aspects through an institutional passage. Although migrants experience a shift in identity as they cross this passage in their transition from rural to urban life, they remain bound to a rural past based on where they were originally registered. Previous research has treated the Hukou system primarily as a mechanism of exclusion and segregation that leads to the construction of a ›dual society.‹ The main argument in this article, however, is that the Hukou system also implies an internal passage for the status transition which migrants may go through, consisting of at least three types: the ›Apartment – Hukou strategy, ‹ the ›Green Card strategy, ‹ and the ›Institutional strategy.