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Fairbank Center Director’s Seminar featuring Martin K. Whyte – China’s Hukou System: How an Engine of Development Has Now Become a Major Obstacle

April 20, 2021 @ 12:30 pm - 1:45 pm

Read the transcript of the event here.

Speaker: Martin K. Whyte, John Zwaanstra Professor of International Studies and Sociology, Emeritus, and former director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University

As the People’s Republic of China has pursued economic development over the decades, a central dilemma concerns how to treat its massive rural population, and the extent to which its rural-origin citizens can contribute to, and benefit from, economic growth.  In different time periods, there have been dramatic changes in the nature of rural-urban relations, often with paradoxical consequences for prospects for economic growth. The talk will examine the nature of rural-urban relations in different time periods, with a focus on post-1978 changes.  The initial reforms, by freeing peasants from the “socialist serfdom” of the communes and allowing geographic mobility while maintaining the hukou system and systematic discrimination against those of rural origin, produced the primary engine of China’s post-1978 economic boom.  However, by maintaining pernicious discrimination based upon hukou status, particularly regarding the educational opportunities of rural youths, China now faces a major human capital deficit that it is struggling to overcome.  The talk concludes with a discussion of why it has been so hard to reform and eliminate hukou-based discrimination, and what more needs to be done for China to escape the “middle income trap” and continue its economic rise.

Part of the Fairbank Center Director’s Seminar Series

Presented via Zoom Webinar


April 20, 2021
12:30 pm - 1:45 pm
Event Category:


Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

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