China: expelling the unemployed from Shenzhen

Ridding the city of those unemployed for longer than three months—that’s what Shenzhen’s vice mayor and police chief suggested April 29 in response to security problems in this special economic zone in South China.  The suggestion has generated a strong online response.

In a meeting with the Hong Kong-Macau Political Consultative Council, Shenzhen’s Vice Mayor Li Ming, who doubles as the head of the police bureau, said if Shenzhen can get the legal basis, it will restrict migrant workers who have been unemployed for longer than three months from renting houses, in effect, asking them to leave the city.  The suggestion was met by the council’s applause, Southern Daily reports.

Li said unemployed migrant workers are responsible for a large percentage of Shenzhen’s crime, Southern Daily reports.  He said 88 percent of the suspects in the city’s detention facilities are first-time offenders, many of whom have migrated from inland regions in search of work.  There are reportedly 1 million unemployed migrant workers currently residing in Shenzhen.

Southern Daily quotes Li as saying “Regulating and bringing order to unemployed workers is the key to solving Shenzhen’s security [problem].  Without solving this, there’s no hope for security.”

Shenzhen, China’s first special economic zone, has doubled in population in the past seven years.  The city grew from a population of 7 million in 2003 to 14 million in 2010, an increase of 1 million people per year.

In the Southern Daily article, Li said Shenzhen’s police force is chronically deficient, with only 13.5 police officers per 10,000 people.  That’s less than half of the police-to-people ratio in the neighboring city of Guangzhou, which reportedly supports 29.7 police officers per 10,000 people.

Online Response

The online response to Li’s suggestion has been negative.  Many bloggers have found the idea a violation of migrant workers’ basic rights.  Others have called it unfair to the migrant population as a whole.  Blogger Hai Tao says such a measure would label all unemployed migrants as criminals.


It’s undeniable that many criminals in Shenzhen are unemployed migrant workers.  But unemployed migrant workers are, after all, only one portion of the criminals. Legislation to get rid of [them] is the same as putting all unemployed migrant workers in the scope of the attack.  This is unquestionably unfair to those who have yet to commit a crime.

The author says the measure would be a violation of basic rights.


More importantly, the freedom to migrate is the citizen’s natural right, and no group or individual has the right to limit it.  Shenzhen, or any other place, doesn’t have the right to expel unemployed workers.

Blogger Zhuben-Dingchong says there are obvious legal problems with the suggerstion.

这位官员法律素养欠缺,体现在他向政协委员谈论法律依据这点上。首先,法律依据不够,这位官员居然不懂得政协委员可没有立法权,人民代表才有给予他法律依据的可能 … 再次,通过立法不租给无业者房子,并不是以法律规范市场经济的行为…

The deficiency in this official’s legal cultivation is evident in his discussion of a legal basis with the member of the Political Consultative Council.  Firstly, there is not enough legal basis.  Surprisingly, this official doesn’t understand that Political Consultative Council members don’t have legislative powers.  Only People’s Representatives can grant him the possibility of a legal basis … Also, passing legislation that restricts renting houses to the unemployed is not a lawful means of standardizing the market economy…

Blogger Chisun writes that Shenzhen citizens have the right to rent to anyone they choose.


As for not renting houses to workers unemployed for longer than three months, the people of Shenzhen renting houses to any legal citizen, including temporarily unemployed workers who haven’t committed crimes—this is a freedom and a right granted by the constitution that no one has the right to interfere or limit.  This is basic knowledge regarding the transaction of commodities.

Li Zheqi, chief consultant for a brand sales organization, writes in a blog entry that although migrant workers bring problems to the cities they relocate to, they are still right-deserving citizens.


The floating population is a necessity of urbanization.  It’s undeniable that “unemployed workers”, while certainly bringing progress to development, have also brought problems.  For example the difficulty of managing security, an overall lower cultural level, lower sanitary conditions and other problems.  But the word “rid” makes people feel like this is a different country.  In your own country, on your own land, if you don’t have work should you be gotten rid of?  What kind of reasoning is this?  What has happened to the respect belonging to this population?

Deng Luwen, a columnist at China Business Net, has called the suggestion the “thinking of a habitually lazy government.”  He says migrant workers have the constitutional right to relocate where they please, as long as they haven’t committed a crime.  Such rights, he says, are also protected by the United Nations Human Rights Treaty.


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