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What the ‘hukou’ is going on in China?

Gong Aiai was sentenced last week in a Shaanxi Province court to three years in prison for buying more than 20 properties with forged ‘hukou’ and identity cards under the names Gong Xianxia and Gong Aiai.

Gong, known in China as the ‘House Sister,’ is the former deputy head of the Shenmu County Rural Commercial Bank. She had bought a Beijing hukou for herself and her daughter, allowing then to purchase property in the capital.

What are hukou? They’re essentially internal passports tying residents to their home states. Individuals are only allowed to have one hukou. It then gives them access to government services and the ability to purchase property in the cities where they’re registered.

In recent years, hukou have to come to symbolize China’s increasing wealth gap. Poor migrant workers are unable to access services like healthcare and housing in the cities they work in, while an increasing number of prominent politicians and business people like Gong buy hukou illegally and amass vast amounts of property and wealth. Prosecutors claimed that Gong’s real estate portfolio was worth $160 million.

Social media users have condemned Gong’s sentence as too lenient and called for authorities to look into her sources of income. Her case has also reinforced the need for stricter management of the hukou and ID card system in China.

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This post originally appeared in the China Compliance Digest. Subscribe to the CCD here.

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