A prominent mainland rural affairs expert has called on the British embassy in Beijing to change its visa-application policies after he was asked to provide a household registration document to travel to the country.
A researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Rural Development Institute, Professor Yu Jianrong, said he was enraged when the workers from the embassy's outsourced visa application centre demanded the document in addition to his passport and national identity card.
The household registration, or hukou, system has long been criticised by Yu and other rural affairs experts, as it prevents mainland rural migrants from accessing education, health care and housing when they move to cities to find work.
"I was deeply humiliated because I was not required to provide any hukou document when I was applying for visas to France and the United States after 9/11," Yu told the Sunday Morning Post.
He applied for the visa on Thursday after receiving a speaking invitation from the London School of Economics at a forum later this year.
Yu, who arrived at the centre, as is his style, wearing an old overcoat, rejected an offer of help from a Chinese man at the office.
"The man said that I could engage him as a visa fixer, so he could help me get exempted from providing the hukou document," Yu said.
The incident comes amid growing calls to reform the system from inside and outside the government. Minister of Public Security Guo Shengkun yesterday ordered local police chiefs, who handle routine hukou matters, to co-operate with other agencies in reforming the system, state television reported.
Yu, called on the central government to introduce hukou reform last year, as part of a 10-year outline for mainland social and political development.
"I demand that the British government stop requiring Chinese applicants to provide a hukou document, which is a discriminatory system created under the planned economic era of the last century and conflicts with today's common international values," Yu wrote in an open letter to the British government.
Yu said the British diplomat had since apologised and scheduled a meeting between the professor and British ambassador Sebastian Wood on Tuesday.
The British embassy was unavailable for comment.
"I think the British embassy felt sorry after I vowed that I would not visit the country if they insist that I give them the hukou booklet," Yu said, promising to wear the same tattered overcoat when he meets the ambassador.