context: Mass rural-urban migration has hollowed out the countryside while migrants and their children struggle to access urban public services under the hukou system. As ‘common prosperity’ takes priority, hukou reform has started for ‘new urbanisation’ to advance further per central directives. But large cities may be reluctant to undertake the costs of extending public services to migrants.

In 2021, 504 million people were living outside their hukou residence districts, according to NBS (National Bureau of Statistics) report released on 28 Feb 2022. Included are 120 million people who moved within their administrative cities and 385 million who moved outside of their cities and provinces. The total number has increased by 11 million from 2020 to 2021 compared to results in the seventh census, reports Jiemian. Cross-provincial movements account for most of the recent increase, which is largely due to the easing of epidemic restrictions, says Lu Jiehua 陆杰华 Peking University sociology professor.

In the last decade, movement within original cities has increased by 192.7 percent, not least in big metropolises. This is largely due to internal urban upgrading and other changes, resulting in location changes in education and work. At the same time, cross-regional migration has increased by 69.7 percent. People, above all members of the rural excess workforce, continue to flow to urban clusters and other coastal and inland cities. But persisting urban restrictions make it difficult for migrants to relocate hukou residences and in turn access hukou-affiliated public services.

Official reports indicate basic health services and education have improved for migrants but the gap in public services remains large due to low social security participation and out-of-pocket housing costs. Meeting these needs is dire as more than 35 percent of the total population now live outside their designated hukou residence areas. This glaring number also shows the hukou system is no longer compatible with the development model and must be systematically revamped, says Huang Wenzheng 黄文政 Centre for China and Globalisation researcher.