In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Hukou (Household Registration) System

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews

Chinese Studies The Hukou (Household Registration) System
Fei-Ling Wang
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 August 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0084


China’s hukou system (hukou zhidu 户口 [household registration system] or huji zhidu 户籍制度 [residential registration system]) is a key sociopolitical and economic institution in China. This system requires every Chinese citizen to be officially and constantly registered with the hukou police from birth. One cannot acquire a legal permanent residency or numerous community-based rights, opportunities, benefits, and privileges in places other than the locality of one’s hukou. Only through proper government authorization can one permanently change hukou location and categorization. Travelers, visitors, and temporary migrants must be registered with the hukou police for extended (longer than three days) stays in a locality, usually through local innkeepers. For a stay of longer than one month, and especially when seeking local employment, one must apply and be approved for a temporary residential permit. Violators, if caught, are subject to fines, detention, forced repatriation, and even jail sentences. Hukou files are routinely used by the police for investigation, social control, and crimefighting purposes. Performing four crucial functions (see Functions and Implications), this system helps stabilize the Chinese political system and shape the Chinese political economy, while fundamentally affecting individuals’ life chances and social status.

General Overviews

The broadest treatment in English, Wang 2005, provides a comprehensive examination of the hukou system. This text traces the history and the creation of the system; describes its functions, operation, and evolution in the People’s Republic of China (PRC); analyzes it comparatively, within a framework of institutional exclusion; and speculates about its prospects. Chan and Buckingham 2008 updates information about the system, especially regarding changes. Young 2013 details developments in the hukou system, in the context of China’s overall socioeconomic changes, by applying an institutionalist framework of analysis.

  • Chan, Kam Wing, and Will Buckingham. “Is China Abolishing the Hukou System?” China Quarterly 195 (2008): 582–606.

    This article examines the reforms to the hukou system in the early 21st century and concludes that, with its changes, the system is in fact being improved and strengthened, but not abolished.

  • Congress of the United States: Senate. China’s Household Registration (Hukou) System: Discrimination and Reforms. Washington, DC: BiblioGov, 2010.

    This free, print-on-demand US government publication collects testimonies from Congressional hearings on China’s hukou system that offer a basic description of the system and its evolution, with a focus on its impact of social discrimination.

  • Wang, Fei-Ling. Organizing through Division and Exclusion: China’s Hukou System. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005.

    This is the first comprehensive study of China’s hukou system in English. The text traces the history and development of the hukou system, describing and assessing its functions, impact, and operational mechanisms. The work also analyzes the hukou, in comparison with the systems of exclusion and discrimination in other nations, notably, Brazil and India, by employing a theory of institutional exclusion.

  • Wang Fei-Ling 王飛凌. “Zhongguo hukou zhidu de zhuanxing” (中國戶口制度的轉型). Ershiyi shiji (二十一世紀) 109 (October 2008): 4–14.

    This article summarizes some of the findings of Wang 2005 and gives an overview and analysis of the hukou system and its changes and reforms in the early 21st century.

  • Young, Jason. China’s Hukou System: Markets, Migrants and Institutional Change. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137277312

    This book explores the changes and reforms of the hukou system by applying an institutionalist approach and explains its ongoing importance in terms of socioeconomic and political development in China.

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