A myth that for some reason has gained credence outside China in recent years is that back in 1958, in the course of the Great Leap Forward, the Maoist CCP created a novel caste-like system of total population control called ”the hukou.” Prior to the birth of this system, so the myth has it, there only existed in China… well, on this point the story falters, but whatever preceded “the hukou” is in any case held up as something less unfair and a lot less communist. The truth of the matter is – as usual when it comes to myths – a lot more complex and in PRC social history, the census and household registration system is surely a critically under-researched topic. A good history of the PRC hukou – huzheng (户政) or huji (户籍) – system prior to 1958 has yet to be written.
A good place to begin any empirically grounded inquiry into the system as it operated in the urban PRC right after 1949 is the first item on the list below, a special issue of Tianjin Public Security on household registration work. Dating from 1950 and orginally marked ”Confidential,” it contains well over a dozen different reports, hukou surveys, investigations, official decrees, etc. documenting developments in Tianjin. Complementing it as a general source of information is the second item on the list, also from 1950 but from the Beijing Bureau of Public Security. It includes inter alia an interesting and detailed Q&A targeting the needs of the ordinary police officer (Q: An urban resident has two wives who reside at separate addresses. The husband, who in both instances counts as the household head, takes turns living for equal lengths of time at both addresses. Which of the two addresses should count as his basic hukou? A: Let the man decide for himself and then register him at the address of his choice.)
The dozen or so additional links are to a number of original standardized hukou forms and documents from northeast China, ca. 1950–1952, weeded out in the post-Mao era from the archival miscellaneous records files (混合卷) of the Harbin municipal Bureau of Public Security. The greater number of them relate to the public security monitoring and administration of that sociologically interesting household category (also dealt with extensively in the Tianjin Public Security source above) known at the time as the ”special” (特殊) or ”special category” (特种) hukou. Such households included those whose heads were deemed by the new CCP authorities to be politically or otherwise suspect, e.g. headed by Guomindang tewu or men who had once served the pre-1945 Manchukuo government.