The Struggle of 15-Year-Old Hukou Protester Zhan Haite

December 10, 2012

A 15-year-old girl has made waves in the Chinese press recently for her fight against Shanghai authorities after she was banned from taking the high-school entrance examination because she does not hold a Shanghai hukou (household registration). She and her family have experienced harassment from locals and authorities as a result of their advocacy.

From Zhan Haite’s op-ed in the China Daily:

I’d been preparing for the high school entrance exam on June 16 and, although we didn’t have much hope, my parents and I never gave up talking to Shanghai’s education commission. I wanted to take that exam, same as my classmates at junior high and thousands of other Shanghai students.

I wasn’t doing badly at junior high, and I believed I could get into a good high school in Shanghai if I was able to take the exam.

All hope disappeared on June 7, coincidently the first day of this year’s gaokao (national college entrance exam). We were told I was not able to take the exam this year by the education commission.

I was desperate and I wanted to seek help from the public, so the week before the exam I set up an account on Sina Weibo using my real name.

The Internet is an efficient platform to speak out and gain support. My mother was against it, as she was worried I might be attacked by malicious netizens. But our family is open-minded and she respected my decision.

I started telling my story on Sina Weibo and received many words of support that encouraged me in my fight to defend my rights.

It was inspiring when celebrities such as Yuan Weishi and Shi Shusi forwarded my posts. They backed me up. I was not alone.

There were many disagreements, and I’ve received many comments from Beijing and Shanghai residents against the children of migrant workers taking the exam with their children. Some talked in a disrespectful way, which I was not happy about, but I tried to talk to them and persuade them to think about equality.

“Disagreements” is a mild way of putting it. Zhan and her family have been beng harassed. From an article about her in the Economic Observer:

15-year-old Zhan Haite has already been out of school for half a year, but in addition to studying English and Math on her own, she has been keeping busy helping her parents deal with all kinds of harassment. Recently, on November 28, an official from the local family planning commission came to the family’s home; “Someone called and complained that [the Zhan family] was preparing to have another child, so [the official] came to investigate whether we really were planning another birth,” Zhan Haite recalled.

Zhan says that this kind of baseless complaint is common harassment from locals who dislike that the family is ‘stirring up trouble’ by advocating that migrants be allowed to attend Shanghai schools. And the harassment directed at her isn’t just coming from locals. The official response to Zhan’s case hasn’t been much warmer.

After ‘dropping out’ of school, in addition to studying high school content on her own, Zhan Haite has sometimes gone along with her father to petition [the government]. The more they went, the more hopeless she became. Every time the answer was the same, and later after writing several letters to Shanghai authorities and having [the case] transferred to the education committee, the official response was just as cold.

(In fact, Zhan Haite’s father was even detained by the Shanghai police recently, although it appears that as of this morning he has been released or at least has come to an agreement of some kind with them).

So Zhan has been pleading her case on Weibo. She now has nearly 10,000 followers on Sina Weibo, and she and her family were even invited to do a Q&A session on Tencent Weibo. Unfortunately, before the Q&A took place, someone decided it wasn’t a good idea and shut it down. One of Zhan’s most recent Weibo posts reads, “The authorities have ordered us to shut down [the Q&A], I’m sorry.” The text is followed by the image of a heart breaking.

To [Zhan Haite], being blocked on Weibo is a common occurrence. “Either they say I have touched on sensitive topics of they say I have been reported, and there are too many complaints about me,” she said. As she sees it, all of this is done by the “skinheads,” a name she has used to refer to [anti-migrant Shanghainese] since a group of Shanghinese youngsters posing as maintenance staff came to Zhan’s apartment and threatened [the family].

Zhan’s weibo has also attracted some harsh comments from locals, some of whom present arguments about her family’s legal status and others of whom just sling violent slurs like “stupid cunt” at her.

Still, it may be telling that this incident has gotten so much attention in the Chinese press. Experts seem to agree that the hukou system has outstayed its welcome, and the media’s fixation on Zhan may help to push for reforms. Of course, it also helps that Zhan Haite seems to be quite an articulate girl; her case is not at all unique but it isn’t too difficult to understand why the media has fixated on her for the moment.

Additionally, though, Zhan may be an interesting example of what I might term the “dissidentification” of Chinese protesters. I have noticed and mentioned before how people frustrated with a specific issue in China seem to eventually become protesters and advocates in a more broad sense. Six months ago, Zhan was just a student, and shortly after that, she was just an opponent of Shanghai’s hukou policy. Now, though, her self-description on Sina Weibo beginss thusly:

A young citizen, a warrior for freedom, on the vanguard for democracy.

True, Zhan’s focus of discussion has remained mostly on hukou-related issues. But that language — and the fact that she chose to put all of that before mentioning hukous specifically when describing herself — is definitely interesting. I’m now following her on Weibo and will be interested to see if she becomes an advocate in other arenas as well as time goes on (that is, if she can keep her weibo account from getting blocked).

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19 Responses to The Struggle of 15-Year-Old Hukou Protester Zhan Haite

  1. [...] via The Struggle of 15-Year-Old Hukou Protester Zhan Haite | ChinaGeeks | analysis and translation of mo…. [...]

  2. S.K. Cheung on December 10, 2012 at 07:45

    Fascinating story. So instead of engaging her situation specifically, or perhaps addressing the apparent inequities and discrimination of the hukou system itself, authorities would like to ostracize her and harass her family instead. Man, isn’t the CCP system just fabulous?

  3. [...] Custer from China Geeks told the story of a 15-year-old girl activist, Zhan Haite, who struggles against the unjust household [...]

  4. FOARP (AKA Gil) on December 10, 2012 at 14:15

    Glad to see you’re still including just a little bit of opinion in your analysis Custer – writing on China would be awfully dry without it.

  5. Violeta Camarasa on December 10, 2012 at 16:46

    Wonderful post! I’d like to follow Zhan on Sina Weibo, can you please provide her username? Thanks!

  6. C. Custer on December 10, 2012 at 23:58

    @ Violeta: Her account is linked a couple times in the post above, but if you want to search for it instead, it’s @占海特

  7. abcd on December 11, 2012 at 08:41


  8. abcd on December 11, 2012 at 08:46


  9. Jay on December 11, 2012 at 21:02


  10. C. Custer on December 12, 2012 at 01:14

    @abcd: 首先,家长的错误孩子就该承担责任吗,你这是什么逻辑?就算父亲犯罪,这也不能取消政府教育孩子 的责任。孩子上学不是特权,是人权。因为父亲的罪而惩罚子女,这不是典型的封建思想吗?


  11. narsfweasels on December 12, 2012 at 13:01

    I am one of the 6% of taxpayers in this country, where can I register my disgust at the misuse of the money that I have earned?

  12. C. Custer on December 12, 2012 at 13:21

    @ narsfweasels: Complaints can be filed in the trash can, or at your local petition office. Complainants wishing to expedite the process may proactively check themselves into and of their local government’s designated black jail locations. Bonus points if you also beat the shit out of yourself and/or have yourself committed to a mental institution.

  13. narsfweasels on December 12, 2012 at 17:23

    Thank you, Charles! I attempted to register my complaint at the local tax office but I intercepted myself before I could cause any trouble. Then I “accidentally” threw myself down a flight of stairs and had a mild cardiac episode playing “hide and seek” with some other similarly-seditious people in a perfectly legal tea-drinking session with myself.

    I promised not to cause any trouble and impede China’s progress in any way, but it’s clear that I’m going to have to keep a careful eye onmyself.

  14. S.K. Cheung on December 13, 2012 at 04:10

    I’m detecting a thread-merge…and a very funny one at that.

  15. C. Custer on December 13, 2012 at 08:55

    @ narfweasels:

  16. small correction on December 15, 2012 at 06:07

    from taking the college entrance examination
    Surely it’s the high school entrance examination (中考), not the college entrance examination (高考)?

  17. [...] of Truth: High Schooler Fights for Rights Zhan Haite has been refused entry to a Shanghai high school because her hukou is from rural Jiangxi Province. [...]

  18. [...] Die Netzptotest-Kampagne, die sie daraufhin organisiert, schlägt hohe Wellen. Der Bericht “The Struggle of 15-Year-Old Hukou Protester Zhan Haite“  am 10. Dezember 2012 bei den ChinaGeeks, nach oben Artikel druckenArtikel [...]

  19. [...] C. Custer απο το China Geeks αναφέρει [en] την ιστορία μιας 15χρονης ακτιβίστριας, της Zhan Haite, [...]