In recent years the Chinese government has stepped up its drive for urbanisation, spending an estimated $6 trillion on infrastructure in anticipation for the extra 400 million people expected to become urban residents in the next decade. However the extent to which this is legitimate urbanisation can be debated. Indeed, it can be argued that a third of China’s 700 million current urban residents are not ‘fully urbanized’. This is due to the fact that they are not in possession of a local ‘Hukou’, a red booklet documenting evidence of household registration. A vast majority of those finding themselves in this situation are rural migrants that have been lured to the cities by the numerous job opportunities offered by the booming manufacturing industries. Thus the problem arises due to the Chinese national registration system, which ties all citizens, and the public benefits they receive, to their hometowns. Consequently many migrants moving to cities are denied access to social security entitlements, and public housing, whilst their children are prevented from gaining admittance to public schools.
Due to the fact that a large proportion of these migrants are employed within the manufacturing sector, it can legitimately be argued that the major economic boom China has experienced in the last thirty years has been partially brought about the ‘Hukou’ system. If such a system was not in place, the creation of the humongous army of exploitable labour that powered the manufacturing industry would not have been possible. With this being the case, the traditional association between urbanisation and prosperity cannot be applied in the case. On the contrary, this prolonged development has lead to the formation of an urban underclass. Furthermore, since ‘Hukou’ is hereditary by law this low social status is passed on from generation to generation in an arrangement not dissimilar from the Indian Caste system. It can thus be asserted that major fundamental changes will need to be made if China is to combat the growth of urban inequality in the future.