Understanding China's Urbanization

Understanding China's Urbanization

The Great Demographic, Spatial, Economic, and Social Transformation

Li Zhang, Richard LeGates and Min Zhao

China’s urbanization is one of the great earth-changing phenomena of recent times. The way in which China continues to urbanize will have a critical impact on the world economy, global climate change, international relations and a host of other critical issues. Understanding and responding to China’s urbanization is of paramount importance to everyone. This book represents a unique exploration of the demographic, spatial, economic and social aspects of China’s urban transformation.

Chapter 2: Evolution, status, and reform of hukou

Li Zhang, Richard LeGates and Min Zhao

Subjects: asian studies, asian development, asian geography, asian urban and regional studies, development studies, asian development, migration, economics and finance, urban economics, geography, asian geography, cities and urban geography, human geography, politics and public policy, migration, urban and regional studies, migration, urban economics, urban studies, planning


In China, the household registration (hukou) system has evolved for more than sixty years. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China (hereafter, PRC) and the implementation of the planned economy, China’s population management system had distinctive features highly integrated with social identity, social order, and economic policy. It remains a government tool for implementing social control by embedding population management within the political and economic system (Zhao, 2004). However, the functions of the population management system far exceed the domain of population migration control (Cheng and Selden, 1994; Chan and Zhang, 1999). As a national policy, the hukou system originally played the role of allocating spatial resources and other welfare for urban and rural populations. Hukou management was relaxed after reform and opening up, but it has continued to be a major factor influencing population migration between urban and rural areas. The hukou system has been closely connected with the urbanization process, and discussions about China’s urbanization typically involve the impact of the hukou system (Cheng, 1991; Chan, 1994; Mallee, 1995; Zhu, 1999; Zhang, 2004; Wang, 2005; PRC, 2014).

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