Despite the fact that urban hukou is understood to be far superior to rural hukou and that rural migrants have strong intention to stay in cities for many years, responses to hukou reforms that increase opportunities to obtain urban hukou have been less than enthusiastic. This article addresses this puzzle by showing how the respective values of rural hukou and urban hukou have changed in recent decades. The access and benefits that are tied to rural hukou—including farming and housing land, compensation for land requisition, and more relaxed birth control—are considered increasingly valuable. Thus, many migrants are opting to straddle and circulate between the city and countryside rather than giving up their rural hukou. Meanwhile, the competitive advantage of urban hukou has declined as China seeks to expand basic public services to all and as the market’s role in distributing food, housing, and other needs increases. The mismatch between rural migrants’ preference for large cities and hukou reforms’ focus on medium-sized and small cities and towns also undermines the reforms’ effectiveness. From a policy point of view, this article’s findings suggest that China’s urbanization strategy should take multilocality seriously and should focus on rural migrants’ livelihood and well-being in cities, rather than on hukou conversion alone.


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pp. 9-39
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