By Oiwan Lam
A week after the deadly fire that killed 19 broke out in Daxing district, on the southern outskirts of Beijing, the city government launched a campaign against illicit buildings and cleared out thousands of migrant workers: the so-called “low-end population.”
The forced eviction of these people started a few years back. In 2014 in central Beijing, the Haidian district government shut down seven grassroots markets, forcing migrants to leave so that authorities could appropriate the space for “upper-end” commercial purposes.
Rural migrants who had been laboring in small workshops inside the city were forced to settle around the outskirts of the capital. Then came the fire.
And in recent days, just as these rural migrant workers were forced out of their dwellings into the streets, Beijing’s temperature fell to below freezing at night.
Chinese netizens could not repress their anger and slammed the government on social media.
Ding Shenning, a high-profile personality on social media platform Weibo, criticized:
In response to widespread criticism, the Beijing Chinese Communist Party committee stressed that local government does not have a policy of evicting the “low-end population,” calling it a rumor and emphasizing that the action was taken to prevent fires.
However, many netizens discovered the term in a number of government documents concerning city planning. Here is one source from Twitter:
— lalaba (@zhangmenglu1) November 26, 2017
I found a source of the term “low-end population,” it is in the district government’s five-year plan.
On Weibo, users also shared the government’s policy paper on “low end population” and blogger Ah Bao pointed out that the term violates a core socialist value:
The so called “low end population” is referred to migrant workers. They come to this city, working very hard with little return to serve this city. They are the bricks of the city and all they want is to improve their family’s living condition.
Putting aside the controversy over naming of migrant workers, more than a hundred mainland Chinese intellectuals co-signed a letter demanding Beijing authorities to stop the forced evacuation:
The group of intellectuals also expressed hope that Beijing’s city planning should reserve space for the grassroots:
It is quite unlikely that the intellectual’s call would be realized. As pointed out by @gongminyaoyao on Twitter, the forced eviction of “low end population” is part of the project to ensure the capital’s political security:
— 姚遥 (@gongminyaoyao) November 26, 2017
The cleaning up of low end population is a small project under a big project. It has been put forward many years back but has not been fully implemented. This time they made use of the fire to launch the campaign. Eventually Beijing will be turned into a forbidden city using household registration and [high end] occupation as barrier. The geopolitics is to ensure the capital’s security.
And @rongjian1957, an experienced media worker, commented on a eviction photo and said that the incident symbolized the beginning of a new era:
— 荣剑 (@rongjian1957) November 26, 2017
This photo probably deserves the Pulitzer Prize? It symbolized the beginning of China’s new era? Beijing’s forced eviction of low end population, according to official media outlets, is supported and welcomed by 100% Beijing citizens. If that’s really the case, why the photo records this warzone-like scene? I said five years ago, the future of China is not about getting the best outcome, but preventing the worst outcome. The answer is reflected in this photo.
Instead of waiting for the mercy of the authorities, volunteer groups tried to help the victims of eviction by connecting them to temporary free shelters. @xiucai1911 commented on volunteers’ effort:
— 秀才江湖 (@xiucai1911) November 26, 2017
I’ve heard of a saying that “water and fire are cruel, but people have hearts” in fundraising event for disaster. Now that Beijing’s authorities evicted the so called low end population in cold winter. They lost their home. Volunteer groups are reaching out to help by providing free shelters. The saying should be “the authorities are cruel, but people have hearts”.
Satirical political news outlet @ComYouthLeague on Twitter mocked at China’s nationalism with an imaginary plot of patriotic movie “Wolf Warrior III”:
— 共青团流亡中央 (@ComYouthLeague) November 26, 2017
[Words on photo: You insult the word patriot.] Some country’s capital labelled Chinese workers as low end population and tore down their accommodation. The scene was very chaotic as the workers faced forced expulsion from the country. It was winter time and they had nowhere to stay in the cold winter night. They could not even protect their own personal safety. “Whoever offends China would be extinguished”, China’s veteran soldier Leng Fung went to the spot alone, arrested the rumour monger and destroyed the office of the organizations which provided shelters for the Chinese workers. [People were surrounded by] Chinese national flags and the music of anthem.
This article first appeared on Global Voices on November 29.