Zheng Yan has told stories about the Terracotta Warriors thousands of times and knows more about the Xi'an icons than many natives of the ancient city, but she is not yet recognized as a permanent resident.
Recently, however, the 29-year-old tour guide, who is applying for household registration permit, or "hukou," saw hope in a new policy.
The hukou is a crucial document entitling residents to social welfare in a given city. The capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province eased its rules from March 1.
Under the new policy, permanent residency is available to non-natives like Zheng if they are aged 35 or below, are graduates and are willing to work, live or start a business in the city.
Migrants can transform their status from temporary to permanent resident if they meet certain requirements, such as buying property, investing a large sum of money or being identified as "talents" fulfilling certain criteria.
Statistics show that within two days, the Xi'an government answered questions from more than 16,000 non-natives, handling about 3,700 applications.
FREE LABOR MOVEMENT
Zheng graduated from Baoji University of Arts and Sciences in 2011. Attracted by its historical monuments and cultural relics, she became a tour guide in Xi'an, about four hours drive from her home city, Ankang.
But working and owning a house there has not made her feel a real part of the city.
"Permanent Xi'an residents enjoy preferential policies in purchasing vehicles and houses, and even obtaining driving licenses," said Zheng, adding that non-natives have to pay extra fees of 40,000 yuan (around 5,800 U.S. dollars) to 50,000 yuan for children to finish at the local public primary schools.
The household registration system has divided the nation into rural and urban populations since the 1950s. The system makes it difficult for migrants to enjoy equal welfare in cities, such as educational opportunities, employment support and care for senior citizens.
And it has been long criticized for hindering free labor movement, which is essential to building a modern society.
"The new policy eliminated people's worries and is helpful for us to keep talent in the city," said a manager, surnamed Li, from a Xi'an-based biological product company.
The new policy allows the company's chief engineer, 50-year-old man surnamed Liu, to gain permanent residency. Liu started to work for the company in 2015, but his hukou was from his hometown Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei Province.
"Separation from my hukou always brings me troubles," Liu said. "Once I lost my ID card, and I had to catch a 13-hour train to Shijiazhuang to apply for a new one. I feel closer to the city these days. It is my home now," he added.
China first decided to reform its household registration system years ago. Challenged by restricted resources, big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou control their population using a points-based system.