August 2015

New in the neighborhood? A 1952 residency transfer form for a ”person of interest”

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For largely extraneous reasons, having little to do with PRC history, the census and household registration system we often speak of simply as 户口 has become a popular topic of study in recent years. I make this claim based on probing conversations with students returning from China to write their bachelor’s theses and on what I understand drives the expansion of the vocabulary of English as ratified by Oxford Dictionaries Online. Apparently, it is possible today to maintain that one is still speaking the Queen’s English when muttering “But I hear mishus with good guanxi relationships can obtain Hong Kong hukous even without a danwei?”

Not all academic studies of hukou are well-informed. In fact, there is a particularly glaring gap in the empirical data supporting claims about how the early hukou system operated in the 1950s, prior to the “three bitter years” (the Leap years that one political scientist, in what may well have been a bold attempt to further enrich the English language, in July 1998 referred to on the pages of International Affairs as the “san ku nian”). The present Document of the Month is a hukou text from Manchuria, typical of many that one can easily buy these days from flea marketers trading in old stamps and rationing coupons, cigarette packets, marriage certificates, liquor bottle labels, used movie and train tickets, receipts, Mao-era travel permits, etc. It is a duly completed and stamped internal transfer form sent by the police in Hailar to their colleagues 749 kilometers away by train in Harbin, telling them that a 特种人口 (an in-house administrative term meaning essentially “person of interest” was about to move house and take up permanent residence on their patch. PRC History Group members interested in the background and local context of this form and others like it from northeast China may want to begin by reading the informative article《解放战争时期户口调查登记工作》by the黑龙江省公安厅法律政策研究室 in No. 15 (January 1990) of the now defunct CMPS serial《公安史资料》.