Luxury watches, mistresses and even houses are so yesterday. The new hot pursuit in China’s officialdom is hukou, resident record in the country’s notorious household registration system. While hukou confines the underclass, it allows those in powerful positions the room to enjoy care-free corruption.
How many hukou do you have?
Hukou, as a household registration record, officially identifies a person as a resident of an area using identifying information such as name, date of birth and family relations. Theoretically, one individual can only have one hukou record as a unique identifier, just like one can only have one SSN number in the US. But two recent news about corrupt officials and their family members challenged that assumption.
“Younger House Sister,” a post-90s generation girl who has a Shanghai hukou, was found to own 11 apartments under an affordable housing project in Zhengzhou, Henan province. Her father Qu Zhenfeng was found to be the former director of Zhengzhou State Housing Bureau. All 4 family members of Qu have 2 hukou. Registered under the family’s different hukou are a total of 29 houses.
Gong Aiai, who has been dubbed by netizens as the “Older House Sister,” is the vice president of Rural Commercial Bank in Shenmu County, Yulin City, Shaanxi province, and also a delegate of China’s National Congress. This county-level cadre was found to own over 20 apartments in Beijing with a total value exceeding 1 billion RMB. And the highlight of the scandal is that she has 4 hukou, 3 in Shaanxi province and 1 in Beijing.
Both news broke in the past two months, and the outcry for hukou reform is undoubtedly loud. The use of hukou has been accused of limiting the mobility of working forces in China and creating an inherent inequality in society, but now people start to realize that hukou is also a hotbed of corruption.
The corrupt with multiple hukou
In China, hukou is tied with many social and economic benefits such as healthcare, public education, employment, social welfare, and in some cases, the right to easily own houses and cars locally and even the right to have more than one child. A hukou in one of China’s mega cities like Beijing or Shanghai is more precious than gold because residents of big cities can enjoy a variety of benefits that rural residents or residents of smaller cities don’t receive.
The fact that someone can have 4 hukou showed the extend of inequality in the society. Netizen 光远看经济 commented, “I know friends who have a great job, a happy family and a cute kid in Beijing. But still, they cannot obtain a Beijing hukou after so many years living there. Then you see news about other people having 4 hukou. The exposures of officials’ multiple hukou make people feel completely disappointed at the country.” terry1969 echoed, “Beyond disappointment. Think of those children [who were born and raised in Beijing] but cannot take college entrance exam in Beijing. [Admission standards are lower for Beijing students].”
Hukou, to many Chinese, is much more than a unique identifier. It entails all the born-with privileges and disadvantages that fall on each one throughout his life in China. To own multiple hukou means to enjoy multiple benefits. And most importantly, multiple hukou ownership is always linked to corruption.
There is no corruption-free or crime-free way to get multiple hukou in the first place. For example, in Beijing, even local residents’ newborns who are entitled with a Beijing hukou need to go through complicated paperwork from different government departments to register. So just image the processes of how some officials got multiple hukou for themselves and their family members.
What’s more, multiple hukou, or multiple identities, is the best way for corrupt officials to hide away illegal income. Corrupt officials, to a certain degree, are now safe even if the Chinese government legalize the public disclosure of officials’ personal assets. Everything under the “official” hukou will be clean.
何兵, associated dean of the law school at China University of Political Science and Law, commented that no matter how multiple hukou is done, someone is guilty.