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To reform or not to reform : China's hukou reform at the local level Zhang, Miaofeng


The Chinese government has issued a series of directives of hukou system reform. However, the strength and depth of the hukou reforms at the local level differ greatly across localities. Some local governments refused to reform, while others implemented local reforms either radically or conservatively. Among those that reformed local system, some decided to suspend or alter it and others continued. Thus, the paper asks what accounts for the variance of hukou system reforms across localities. Specifically, the research question is two-fold: 1) regarding the initiation of reforms, why some local governments implemented radical hukou reform, others partially reformed their hukou policies, and still others did not carry out the reform, and 2) as for the maintenance of reform, why, among those that pursued hukou reform, some decided to suspend or alter it while others continued. The paper adopts the comparative case study method and delves into three cases: Zhengzhou, Hohhot, and Fenghua. Different from existing literature that focuses merely on either incentives or disincentives of local hukou reform, this paper brings the political factors in and argues that it is local leaders’ political decisions based on different degrees of pressure of urbanization from upper level governments and different levels of policy adjustability to costs that cause such divergence. What’s more, I contend that the variance of the adjustability to expected costs leads to different outcomes in maintaining hukou reforms.

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