Are Chinese citizens allowed to move freely in and out of free trade zones in China? I heard they can't while foreigners such as tourists from the U.S. can. If this claim is true, why is it so hard to verify? I wasn't able to search it myself and every article I read on the free trade zones doesn't mention anything regarding movement.

For example, this article doesn't help.

  • 1
    IIRC China still had a system of internal passports for peasants at least. theconversation.com/… Which while not coinciding with the movement to areas as large as the free zones prevented them from moving to cities, IIRC. OTOH the system is probably quite porous (rife with corruption, I guess) since also IIRC a lot of factory workers come exactly from rural areas. Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 22:08
  • N.B. the mingong get temporary permits to work in cities, or something like that. Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 22:18

2 Answers 2


A Chinese citizen from anywhere can move, as in travel to, any place within China mainland as long as they have the money to pay for the fares. However, it is the "finding a permanent place of living", "getting the kid into local school", "finding a job", that where you are from gets in the way. China has had this thing since ancient times called "Hu Kou" where your place of birth would determine all of the aforementioned things. This is a way to stop rural people from getting into the cities and abandoning their farmland because of low income from farming, thus decreasing the nation's food production. It is a subject hotly debated among the citizens and even the Party because so many "interest parties" are involved.

  • That is the key point. Travelling to Shanghai or Shenzen is open to almost everyone (ie unless you are on some kind of police watch list or something like that). Living there legally however is restricted. You can't easily move your residence to another city or region.
    – quarague
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 6:37
  • Can you please provide more details about jow Hu Kou works?
    – alamar
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 7:08
  • Unfortunately, even Wikipedia is very brief. It does not describe specific Hu Kou limitations or benefits, how to change it, etc, etc...
    – alamar
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 7:47
  • Japan did something similar to what you are describing - preventing peasants from moving between regions (both travel and for residency). It was instituted after the end of the Sengoku period, where Japan fractured into separate warring kingdoms. After it ended and the empire reconsolidated. Peasants were permanently banned from travelling too far from their home village. I don't know the full reason, but the impression I got was to prevent the formation of new armies that'd challenge the state, and control the flow of information and isolate discontent.
    – Jamin Grey
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 15:35
  • But is this the case now? What exactly does gets in the way mean? On average can Chinese people move freely their center of living or can't they? Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 20:45

This is probably not the answer you are looking for, but I think one could argue that inside China there is no free movement of people.

Just because you are not being stopped, does not mean you have free movement. And with surveillance at a high level, people will be approached at a later stage when they are identified of being somewhere they should not be, or doing something they should not do.

  • But is this true? Do people get approached at a later stage in China currently? I don't think this answer is necessarily wrong, just that it could be more clear and also more backed up with sources. Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 20:47

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