By Mike Bastin.

Calls for an end or at least reform of China’s Hukou system continue to grow ever louder. Pressure for change is building not only from China’s 200 million migrant workers but also from the growing urban middle class who desperately seek a second child to accompany their first born.

The case of Yang ZhiZhu has dominated the Chinese media over the last few days. Yang, an Associate Professor in Beijing, and his wife went ahead with a second child in December 2009 but was first suspended from his position in April 2010 and then fined 240000rmb later that same year for “illegally having a second child” and of course the child was refused a Hukou without which access to healthcare and education is impossible. Unsurprisingly Professor Yang sued but also unsurprisingly very recently found he had lost his case. He has, however, now secured a Hukou for his second child.

Yang’s plight has been well documented on China’s social media environment with plenty of support from the Chinese public and even financial contributions towards the penalty. Further evidence shows that the Chinese public is pressing for change on such issues.

But how serious is this issue and what are the root causes and possible solutions?

Firstly, in the case of China’s urban population, there is usually only demand for a second child and no more. The obvious reason being the need for a playmate for the first born. Sociologists have long argued over the destruction to family life and societal cohesion of the one-child policy. Surely,it is high time for the Chinese government to understand and act. Allowing urban Chinese families to have a second child is not only a moral imperative, but it will also contribute to a far healthier, family-oriented society.

It is important also to identify the real reason why this Hukou system is still maintained, which is not simply China’s huge and growing population. Rather, it is China’s almost unique concentration of population density that lies at the heart of this present situation. There is, therefore, urgent need for a move towards the establishment of a network of urban settlements across China in order to relieve increasing pressure onChinamajor, mega cities. For example, Beijing is now estimated to be home to 22 million people!

China’s 2nd and 3rd tier cities require rapid development but also necessary is the creation of completely new urban environments which together form a network of economic opportunity for China’s urban and rural populations. Such a network will not only lead to improvement in the quality of life in China’s first tier cities but will also obviate the need for China’s rural community to seek better economic prospects in only a few of China’s biggest cities.

But how to ignite and expedite such a transformation in China’s urban environment? Many call for state management and control with massive injections of public money while others call for private sector dominance. The answer lies in a rejection of this polarization and the formation of a solid, long-term partnership between public and private sectors. Such a partnership has proved fruitful in many developed nations. Partnership between government and the private sector results in protection and preservation of societal interests while at the same time introduces increased efficiency, cost-effectiveness and market-orientation.

A more dispersed urban environment across China is the answer to many of the social and economic challenges facing China, including reform of the Hukou system. Government action is very urgent and necessary but insufficient. Public and private sector partnership is the only long term solution.

Mike Bastin is PhD student at School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.

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