The childrens' signs read, "Grandfather Wen, we want to go to school".
With the start of the new school year drawing nearer, a small group of students and their parents gathered in the Chinese capital Beijing’s Fengtai district last week to demand the government allow them to return to the classroom. Seated in a row of chairs, the children held a banner addressed to the country’s prime minister, Wen Jiabao, with the words “Grandfather Wen, we want to go to school” spelled out in neat, block characters. As the children of migrant workers, the young protesters face the threat of being declared persona non grata in the city where their parents work.
Their precarious situation is largely due to China’s hukou system, which was officially established in 1958 as a means to control migration within the country. It requires that every person register a permanent household with the state, thereby creating a sort of internal citizenship structure. While one enjoys full “citizenship” rights wherever their hukou is registered, these rights can be limited or made all together obsolete in the event that one moves, say, for work. Even if a child is born elsewhere, their hukou is dependent on their parents’ status, which can be nearly impossible to change.
system has long been criticised as being discriminatory against the country’s migrant population, treating them as second class citizens. In September 2011, local authorities in Beijing shut down at least 20 schools for children of migrant workers
, stranding around 14,000 children without an education.
Anger over the system boiled over again several months later in February 2011, when hundreds of migrant workers gathered outside of China’s Ministry of Education in Beijing to demand that their children be granted an equal opportunity to take university entrance exams in the capital, rather than where their hukou is registered.