The Right to Exams: Examining China's Citizenship Transformation through a Petition Campaign in Beijing

Monday, July 14, 2014: 11:15 AM
Room: Booth 45
Oral Presentation
Irene PANG , Brown University
Market reforms in China beginning in the late 1970s have initiated the transformation of China’s citizenship regime by restructuring the triadic configuration of relations between the state, the market, and an emerging civil society. The gradual erosion of that institution which defined and structured China’s bifurcated citizenship—the hukou system—by market forces is increasingly shifting the responsibility of distributing resources from the state to the market. Yet insofar as the dissolution of the hukou system is incomplete, the access to certain resources, such as higher education, remains legally restricted by the hukou system. Using the petition campaign of a group of internal migrants in Beijing seeking the rights of their children to sit university entrance examinations locally as a site of active practice and contestation of citizenship, I examine the nature of the emergent citizenship regime in China and its implications for social inequality. I observe that although the claims of the migrant parents in Beijing are substantively similar to claims that have historically been made by other internal migrants in China under the socialist era, the logic behind such claims and the ways they are being negotiated have changed. I argue that China is transitioning from a collective-based regime of dichotomized (rural vs. urban) citizenship rights to an individual-based regime of stratified citizenship rights. Under the emergent regime of citizenship, individuals’ ability to become and act as citizens, as well as their ability to partake in the construction of the new citizenship regime, depends increasingly on their market position. Thus, short of achieving a more equal citizenship, market reforms are leading China from one unequal citizenship regime to another unequal citizenship regime.