Skip to content Skip to navigation

Chinese authorities employ oppressive measures to systematically exclude poorest workers from major urban centers

November 6, 2002


FREE Adobe Acrobat Software to read PDF files


For further information, contact:
Stacy Mosher (New York) 1-212-239-4495 or
Nicolas Becquelin (Hong Kong) 852-2710-8021

In the course of the last decade, the central and municipal governments in China's largest cities have constructed a system of institutionalized exclusion against the country's poorest migrants. In its report, Institutionalized Exclusion: The Tenuous Legal Status of Internal Migrants in China's Major Cities, HRIC describes discriminatory laws and policies under a modified household registration (hukou) system that make internal migrants into second class citizens, leaving the poorest 10 to 20 percent of residents in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai virtually without rights.

"While claiming pending reform of the inequitable hukou system, the government has in fact only exacerbated grave injustices against millions of China's poorest citizens," says Nicolas Becquelin, Research Director of HRIC.

In Institutionalized Exclusion HRIC documents the following abuses against poor migrants:

  • Intimidation and extensive brutality, including police abuse, forced evictions and destruction of property, and arbitrary detention under Custody and Repatriation (C&R), which has more than tripled in ten years. Well over three million people, most of them migrants, are detained annually under this system without due process. In Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen an estimated 10 percent of the migrant population is subject to C&R in any one year.
  • Extreme and extensive violations of labor rights by private employers, forcing migrants to risk life and limb for low pay. Officials often turn a blind eye to abusive working conditions, ignore complaints and fail to enforce existing labor laws.
  • Draconian controls on migrant women's fertility, which endangers lives through lack of proper medical care. Migrants make up less than a third of Guangzhou's population, but more than 75 percent of deaths of women in childbirth. An official study found that more than half of these deaths were due to lack of proper medical attention.
  • Efforts to control the rental of housing to migrants, resulting in inflated rents and conditions that are a threat to health and safety.
  • Systematic blame of migrants for rising crime rates, with the result that migrants are more likely to be arrested and suffer from police abuse and torture. According to some judges in major cities, migrant defendants are more likely to be sentenced to death as they do not have local advocates to plead their cases.
  • Licensed extortion through endless demands for fees, fines and protection money that consume a large part of migrants' meager earnings. Aping the authorities, semi-official and private actors have developed their own illicit permit schemes for extracting money from migrants.
  • HRIC charges that the migration the hukou system seeks to discourage is the result of China's inequitable and discriminatory investment and development policies, which have created an enormous gulf between countryside and city. Among a number of recommendations, HRIC urges the Chinese government to immediately address the root causes of massive rural migration, including the urgent need for public services and investment in the countryside. HRIC also calls for mechanisms to make municipal officials more accountable to all people living under their jurisdiction.