Shengliver’s Note: This entry was written about one and a half years ago, when the boy, Zeng Shaoqing, joined my class. I learned about his family through his English journal. The boy is still here in the school and will be in his last year of high school in the new semester. His problem is shared by millions of others in China, who shuttle between city and country. This group of Chinese plays a vital part in contemporary China’s transformation – urbanisation and industrialisation. Will they be given more rights? Will they still be treated as second-class citizens? Where will the national policy go? All the answers you and I have to wait to find out. The places mentioned in the entry – Shiyan, Yunxian, Fangxian, Nanhua, and Yetan – are located in Hubei Province. Huadu is one of the districts of Guangzhou, the capital city of Guangdong (also known as Canton).


"Where am I from?" This question was asked by Zeng Shaoqing, one of my pupils in his English journal.


If you ask me where I am from, I will have no idea how to answer it. Is it odd? Not at all. Let me tell you why.


My grandfather was born in Fangxian. Later he moved to Yetan, Yunxian, where my father was born. My father relocated to another town, Nanhua, Yunxian, where I was born. However, I did not stay at Nanhua long. When I was four or five years old, my parents migrated to Guangzhou. They found their jobs there and later purchased our home – a flat in a tower block in a neighbourhood in Huadu District. I started schooling there. I did kindergarten, primary school and junior high school where my parents worked. A problem came up when it was time for high school, however.


No high school in Guangzhou was ready to take me in because I have no Guangzhou City permanent resident permit issued by the Guangzhou Public Security Bureau. My father was helpless. He had no choice but to send me back to Shiyan for high school. I still hold a Shiyan City permanent resident permit. That’s why I am here at this high school. But where is my home? My home is in Guangzhou. I am studying here all alone. My parents are far away from me. I am lonely sometimes.


Where am I from? Am I from Fangxian? No, that’s where my grandfather was from. Am I from Yunxian? No, I have no home there. Am I from Shiyan? No, I have no family here. Am I from Guangzhou? If I am from Guangzhou, why can’t I go to high school there? So where am I from?


I am at a loss.


Reading this journal entry, I felt anger surging in me. What a stupid system! Do we need a better example to illustrate its absurdity? This boy is a perfect example. What trouble has the system caused to the boy and his family? Because of the snowstorm in the past holiday, he spent over 40 hours on the train journey back to HIS home in Guangzhou and after the holiday it took him the trouble to travel all the way up to Hubei from Guangzhou for the new semester.


I need to elaborate on a Chinese term hukou here. What is it?


A Chinese person’s hukou is his permanent resident permit, officially called Household Register. Every Chinese family has such a permit issued by the local Public Security Bureau. This permit shows where the family is supposed to reside "permanently", who the members are, their age and their gender. This permit in a sense ties a Chinese person to his original residence (often at his birth place), which is registered with the local public security authorities. Nowadays a lot of Chinese, a large portion of them peasants, move around the country for better job opportunities. When they migrate to a new city for a job, they cannot, mostly, obtain the city’s permanent resident permit. They apply for and are granted a “temporary” resident permit. This permit allows them to work in the city temporarily but the holder of the permit is not a regular citizen of the city, therefore not entitled to the same benefits as their regular counterparts do. They have no access to normal medical care, and social insurance of the city. Their children have no equal access to the city public schools. They either have to attend low-quality schools or pay their way into a public school.


Although the government has been reforming this rigid system, it is still creating a barrier to the migrant workers striving for a better life. For example, there is a rule in China that a teenager has to sit the national matriculation test where his permanent residence is registered. His parents may have been working in a city for over ten years, yet he still has to go back to his native area – his parents’ hometown – for school, for he does not qualify legally as a permanent resident of the city where he has been growing up.


Sometime last year, one of my boyhood pals, who had been working in the Chinese capital for over 15 years, called me up on the phone. He told me that he was planning to send his daughter back to Shiyan for junior high school, for he said that it would be impossible for his daughter to take the national college entrance exam in Beijing.


This system is irrelevant in today’s China. The country has been getting more and more mobile. The mobility does good to the whole nation. The nation is better than yesterday largely thanks to this mobility of the Chinese population. The government should facilitate this movement further. The whole system should be overhauled.


I wish one day all the Chinese kids could stay where their parents were. A happy childhood is the foundation for a happy and productive life later on in one’s adulthood.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. YiChin Fu
    Oct 25, 2014 @ 09:55:30

    I just wonder how this writer has got to learn his ability in writing English passages so beautifully! Just in Shiyan local regular high school? How can that be? How come? I have doubts. Who can tell me the truth?
    I am also a Yunxian native. But I have had a completely different experience in my English learning process, after high school in Yunxian, to have achieved this level of English ability! but, sorry! I think I am still at a lower level than Sheng…What makes it? Nature has given him it — natural gift?


    • shengliver
      Oct 25, 2014 @ 22:27:26

      WordPress has been blocked from mainland China users for a couple of years. I cannot normally access my blog on it. Luckily I backed up all the entries when Microsoft scraped their blogging service in 2008. I update my blog on Sina on a weekly basis now. Should you be interested, sir, please go there and have a look. This is the link: http://blog.sina.com.cn/shengliver

      I am a Yunxian native, born in a remote corner of the county where three Chinese provinces, Hubei, Henan and Shaanxi, met. Completely locally educated, I became a teacher of English in the best high school of the area, Yun Yang High School in 1991, when I was graduated from my poor college. Ever since then I have never stopped pursuing my interest in the language.

      I suspect I know something about you, sir, but I am not so sure. Your name Fu Yiqin is also the name of an English language professor from Taiwan, who was born in Yunxian too. And interesting enough he attended my high school before 1949. I was wondering whether you were the professor. I happened to read one of Mr Fu’s essays carried in a Chinese journal titled The World of English some years ago.

      Whoever you might be, it is my privilege to have you read my English writing. We do share one thing—both of us are Yunxian natives. It’s really a small world today thanks to the technology.

      I will post the reply at the blog entry and I will also send a copy to your email address.

      Best wishes. Date: Sat, 25 Oct 2014 01:55:31 +0000 To: shengliver@hotmail.com


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