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They are talking about abolishing hukou in the New Economy -- the main argument being that in a prosperous society where nothing is rationed any more, there's no need to keep track of people's whereabouts as a mobility-restrictive measure.|
Like a Chinese saying goes,"There's no such thing as a non-stop banquet in the world."
Applied to social control, this means the pros and cons of such measures have now come under critical scrutiny because of radically changed societal norms and demographic compositions of certain metropolitan areas.
One by one, some of the best practices in the tightly controlled society of yore have been dismantled, and now this.
As an example of such good practices, consider the previously enforceable pre-marital medical exam, which was dispensed with a few years ago and now under consideration for reinstatement because of an alarming increase in physical defects and mentally retardation in newborns associated with genetics or STD -- conditions which were detectable with a few simple pre-marital screening tests in most cases.
The Household Registration practice (hukou) serves in the capacity of criminal and social control, allocation of urban resources and quick identification and mobilization of the masses in times of war or natural disasters.
In the area of criminal control, the hukou system had contributed to the stability of Chinese society through establishing and maintaining a portfolio on each individual. That's why in general it had been relatively easy for the police to apprehend escaped felons or fugitives.
In the area of social control, the municipal government had always been able to control the number of residents in the city, preventing the kind of social chaos you see in places like India and Philippines where a sudden explosion of city dwellers had contributed to slum neighborhoods.
Besides, what happens in Shanghai in terms of accommodation of rural workers may not have the same applicability as in Beijing. What prompted Shanghai to do away with the hukou system had much to do with the demographic composition in the city -- there are many foreigners and Taiwan businessmen who hire these migrant workers for domestic help and the turnover rate of domestic-helpers and other types of workers (such as construction workers from Nantong, Jiangsu Province) has been higher than in other cities, and so a disproportionate number of complaints against this system had been lodged by these groups.
It is best not to dismantle Beijing's hukou system in the foreseeable future, although a decision has probably been made already after the recent CPPCC and NPC, and this survey is merely a retroactive rather than a prospective measure.
Afterall, Shanghai's experiment may yet fizzle out, just like the rising cases of newborn defects secondary to the abolishment of pre-marital medical exams is likely to lead to their reinstatement.