Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 December 2019
Using a localized perspective, this paper explores the gap between the eligibility criteria for a Beijing hukou (household registration) and the reality of successfully acquiring one. By comparing those who are eligible to apply with those who actually succeed in gaining a hukou, it reveals that hukou practices are operated locally to serve the city's development needs. It also reveals huge gaps between migrants, eligible applicants and hukou winners. Most migrants in Beijing are not eligible to apply for a local hukou. However, among those limited applicants who can apply, those with a postgraduate education and who serve the capital's political functions are more likely than others to win a hukou, an advantage not pointed out in government documents. These “hidden” rules are most likely set intentionally by the city so that it can maintain absolute control over hukou transfers; however, at the same time, they frustrate migrants who meet the stated requirements but who are in reality still unlikely to ever acquire a Beijing hukou. These findings open up a novel perspective for exploring the people–city nexus in China during the migration process and highlight the gaps between policy and reality for those who can apply for a Beijing hukou and those who actually win one.