BEIJING — How many certificates or other public documents does a Chinese citizen need through a typical lifetime? A senior official of China's Communist party recently reckoned the answer is 103.
A newborn baby changing residence needs a proof of non-criminality. A Chinese grown man who lists his mother as the emergency contact person on a form is required by the authorities to "prove your mom is your mom." The absurd examples added up to the point that even Li Keqiang, China's Premier, lambasted all the extra administrative paperwork as "a joke."
All those who have wanted to become parents in China will know what a bother it is to get a Birth Permit to allow you to have a baby. But since the government started easing the One-Child policy, couples now know it's even harder to obtain the "Permit for a Second Child." At a minimum, it requires the following documents: the wife's parents' marriage certificate, identity cards and household registration; the first child's residence registration, the permit that allowed the parents to have him or her and the birth certificate; and the parents' identity cards and household registrations.
In brief, more than 20 documents are required, including one demanding the involved parties prove that they had one child already, and that they have not adopted any other child. The papers are to be provided by the couple's respective work units (danwei). If this danwei happens not to have been involved in the parties' first marriage (they might have changed jobs and spouses since) then things are doomed to be very dramatic if any ex-spouse wants to make it difficult. No other country in the world makes it such an administrative drag to have a baby as it is in China.
Before returning home to China, Xie lived in the United States for 10 years. He notes that an American-born baby gets a Social Security Number and birth certificate rather easily, which then serve as proof for various purposes, including the father or mother-child relationship. "Yet in China, even though the One-child Certificate already clearly shows the parents' names, photos and identity card numbers, when it is required to prove the father or mother-child relationship only the household registration counts," Xie notes. "This is a total waste of time since there is already the birth certificate!"
Too much to handle
If one needs over 20 documents to welcome a child's birth, it is at least a happy event. But to prove a family member is dead can be a double nightmare. It is common that in Chinese hospitals, crematorium and neighborhood committees still keep paper-only files, and all too often manage to lose them. When someone dies it is thus impossible to prove the identity of the deceased. "I managed to obtain a cremation certificate from the crematorium, but the neighborhood committee where my grandfather lived refused to put their stamp on the paper, because they don't have any information about the death," recounts Wang. "As a result, I can't go to the police to cancel his household registration and so I can't inherit the property he left to me."
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Keep your chin up, kid. Photo: James Kim
Zhang, a Dalian police officer dealing with civil affairs, said national circumstances help explain all this bureaucracy. "Chinese people have experienced poverty-ridden times so every family has the instinct to save up as much as they can for later," said Zhang. "It is still common today that in order to continue to receive their parents' pensions, offspring do not report their deaths. And then, when the offspring does need their parents' death certificates a few years later, they can end up in big trouble."
With his experience in the U.S., Xie is convinced that ultimately it is the government mindset that creates the problems in China. "In America, the authorities expect the people to have self-discipline, whereas in China we believe that a lot of people are troublemakers and need to be strictly controlled," he said.
Recently it was reported that a young woman who passed the teacher qualification exam was required to obtain a non-criminal record certificate before getting her teacher certificate. Since she hasn't started working yet no employer was willing to endorse her non-criminal status. She then asked the neighborhood committee to help her. The neighborhood committee stated that they could not help her unless she obtained a certificate from the police. And then comes the most ridiculous moment: the police demanded that she provide proof from the education authority that she indeed needs this certificate!
"In Britain, when hiring a teacher the schools themselves will investigate any past criminal activity, credit problems, and so forth," explains Yifan, a UK-based Chinese native. "It's not up to the individual to provide a written certificate to prove they are not a criminal."