Hukuo and Suzhi as Chinese Technologies of Governing Citizenship and Internal Migration in China

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Chenchen Zhang, Lecturer in the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queens University, Belfast - this talk looks at the genealogy and contemporary configuration of two key concepts that are central to governing the “extent” and “content” of citizenship in China: hukou and suzhi. Whereas hukou, or the household registration system, functions as a formal meso-level citizenship that distributes rights and regulates internal migration, the concept of suzhi, loosely translated as quality, brings together various discourses about what a desirable citizen subject should look like. I conceptualize the two as technologies of citizenship, which are inherently interconnected to one another as the hukou policy that governs internal migration employs the language of suzhi to justify the regime of differentiated citizenship, rights and mobility. After presenting the historical evolvement of each concept in the Chinese political system, I will focus on the latest reforms of the household registration system and the role of suzhi in the discourse of hukou reforms, urban governance, and rural-to-urban migration. It is argued that the policy and discursive changes indicate a shift from the dualistic urban-rural segregation to a multiplication of legal statuses, boundaries and hierarchies of citizenship that do not operate exclusively along the line of geographical boundaries. These technologies of citizenship are also examined from a global comparative perspective. Whereas the hukou regime that offers internal migrants differentiated access to rights based on their assumed economic worth is reminiscent of the governance of international migration in other national contexts, the suzhi discourse can be compared to the idea of liberal improvement.

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Video of full lecture with presentation slides edited into the video.


Cornell East Asia Program

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East Asia Program, Cornell University


East Asia; China; migration; social anthropology


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