China’s hukou system, the national household registry, renders society into the urban-haves and the rural-have-nots. The hukou functions as an arbiter of entitlements by granting holders of urban status the benefit of public education, pensions, and healthcare, among other services that are lacking for rural-hukou holders. I argue that the hukou system is the chief barrier to reforming China’s economy towards a high-skill, high-wage model. This essay examines the inequalities stemming from the rural-urban divide within the scope of Shandong province. Emblematic of China’s macroeconomic restructuring, Shandong province is viewed as the bellwether for similar eastern coastal provinces leading market-oriented economic reform. By looking at demographic trends, lifestyle data from China’s 2014 census, and a variety of economic figures, I build an empirical picture of inequality in Shandong province. With data from the China Labour Bulletin, I highlight the growing social instability emanating from the outgrowth of the hukou’s system: rural-migrant labor. Moving forward, I propose three policy reforms that align with China’s transition into an equitable economy.
Edited by Rachel Pollard.