China Power

Media Finds Voice

Editorial about a discriminatory govt policy shows China’s media has some spunk.

A dramatic call for reform from China this week, which was fascinating not necessarily so much for the message, but for the way it was delivered.

For centuries China has had the hukou system, under which citizens are legally obliged to register their residency in a certain location. In 1958, the government started to use the system to control the movement of people between rural and urban areas, meaning that in recent years many of the millions of migrant workers heading to big cities have been unable to access key government services as they were still registered with their hometowns.

The fact that some people are speaking out against such an outdated and discriminatory system is perhaps no surprise, and even Premier Wen Jiabao felt compelled in an internet chat session with Chinese citizens to state the government is trying to speed up reform of the system.

But what was most interesting is where the loudest voice of criticism has come from this time–through a co-ordinated editorial published in more than a dozen Chinese newspapers. The editorial, which ran Monday, called freedom of movement a ‘human right.’

Coming at the start of a week in which the National people’s Congress–the nation’s biggest political meeting–begins, it is perhaps inevitable that the editorial and links quickly ‘disappeared’ from websites. But the fact that this happened at all, and just before such a key political event, is a notable (and welcome) step.