BEIJING - The number of identity documents and certificates that a Chinese has to possess in his lifetime could amount to about 400 - an absurdly high figure compared with the rest of the world, according to the Chinese media.
A discussion on the need to reduce this figure is making the rounds in China's media after Premier Li Keqiang cited a case at a meeting to show how ridiculous many of such documents are.
"A man in Beijing who was travelling abroad with his family went to a tour agency to make the booking," recounted Mr Li.
"When he was told to name a contact whom the agency could call in the event of an emergency, he thought his mother would be the best candidate.
"But to his surprise, the agency told him to produce a document to prove the name he gave was his mother's."
According to People's Daily reporter Wang Qingchang, the man could get the required proof only from the authorities in south-eastern Jiangxi province where he was born, as he and his parents had lost all his birth documents.
"That meant he had to make another trip besides the one he was planning," said the reporter.
In a programme by the state-owned CCTV station aired last week, Mr Wang said it was understandable why bogus identity documents were common in China, given the difficulty in securing genuine ones.
According to the official Xinhua news agency, a woman in southern Guangzhou city who needed to prove she had complied with China's family-planning policy spent 19 days to obtain 13 certifying stamps from eight departments.
Xinhua also said 799 days would be needed for an investment project to reach the approval stage, having first to receive 108 endorsement stamps from 20 departments and 53 offices.
According to an official survey in Guangzhou, the Chinese may need a staggering 400 certificates in their lives, of which 103 would be essential.
These include a birth certificate, which is issued to a pregnant woman as official approval for her child's pending birth; a residential permit for a student studying in another city; a marriage certificate, without which couples cannot have children; and an "existence proof", which is a prerequisite for retirees seeking to withdraw their pension.
As for non-essential certificates, here is a strange-but-true example.
If one goes to a bank to exchange a torn note for a new one, chances are he will be asked to produce a document - to show that he has not deliberately defaced it.
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