Academic journal article China Perspectives

"Jumping out of the Agricultural Gate" (Tiaochu Nongmen): Social Mobility and Gendered Intra-Household Resource Distribution among Children in a Central Chinese Village, 1950-2012

Academic journal article China Perspectives

"Jumping out of the Agricultural Gate" (Tiaochu Nongmen): Social Mobility and Gendered Intra-Household Resource Distribution among Children in a Central Chinese Village, 1950-2012

Article excerpt

Established in 1958, the current hukousystem (household registration system) encompasses a series of regulations that institutionally divide all Chinese citizens into two categories: "agricultural hukou" (nongye hukou) holder and "non-agricultural hukou" (fei nongye hukou) holder. Serv- ing to distribute resources between rural and urban areas, control rural-to- urban migration, and monitor certain groups of people, the hukousystem has since its very beginning imposed a huge gap between rural and urban China. The citizens from the two categories are entitled to distinctively dif- ferent social welfare benefits, including access to subsidised housing, edu- cation, medical care, old-age pensions, and employment opportunities, in absolute favour of "non-agricultural hukou" holders.(1)The rural-urban cleav- age caused by this system and other imbalanced inputs from the govern- ment is so great that Whyte calls the situation literally "one country, two societies."(2)That, to a great extent, has resulted in the fact that in the past six decades or so, converting ones rural hukou to an urban status has be- come a central aspect of upward social mobility in rural China. (3)

However, hukou status is ascribed at birth and is mainly passed on by ones parent(s). Children normally inherited the mothers hukoustatus, and it is only in recent years that children have been allowed to choose either their mother or fathers hukou status, the policies varying from region to region.(4) Identity as an "agricultural hukou" holder or a "non-agricultural hukou" holder is to some extent solidified into inheritable social identities. This has made it extremely difficult for an agricultural hukouholder to ob- tain an urban hukou. Throughout the past several decades, rural people have had some channels through which they could obtain an urban hukou. The main identifiable routes mainly include higher education, cadre functions, and military service. (5) Apart from these direct paths guaranteeing the change of ones status from rural to urban, there have been indirect chan- nels, which while not bringing an immediate change of status could result in partial access to urban resources, closing the rural-urban gap in the form of improved well-being. (6) Rural-to-urban labour migration and rural-to- urban marriage are among these channels. The implications of these direct or indirect routes have nevertheless fluctuated according to changing po- litical and socio-economic circumstances and policies, and are gendered. For example, the aforementioned routes of cadre functions and military service are more open to men, whereas more women have been seen using marriage as a social mobility channel. Two main periods could be identified according to the changing circumstances: the collective era (1950s-1978) and the reform era (1978 onwards). (7)

This article attempts to capture, in relation to the two aforementioned historical periods, the ups and downs of these various forms of upward social mobility channels and how these fluctuating routes have been perceived, interpreted, pursued, and actualised by the rural people in a central Chinese village, and considers their consequences in terms of gendered household educational resource distribution among children. By doing this, it addresses ongoing debates about the relationship between allocation of household resources, gender inequality, and social mobility in rural China. While ex- amining the dynamics of these avenues to social mobility, it pays particular attention to education and its changing function as an important social mobility channel, and argues that there is an unintended link between higher educational attainment, improvements in gender equality in educa- tion in rural China, and social mobility. This link is nevertheless weak due to its logic of developmentalism, which assumes girls education would be use- ful only when it could bring forward development. This logic sees girls as agents of development of their family and the state, without caring much about how their own lives would be affected. …

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