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China: Clearing Urban Centers of ‘Unwanted’ People

Categories: East Asia, China, Development, Governance, Human Rights, Politics

This post is part of our special coverage Global Development 2011 [1].

From early 2011, major cities in China have started cleaning up “dangerous” and “low-end” elements of their populations.

The proposal on “population control” was firstly introduced [2] [zh] in the People's Congress held in Beijing in January 2011. It suggested that in the coming five years, the Chinese capital has to repress population growth; it has been estimated that more than 700,000 people living in the old city will be relocated to the city outskirts. Moreover, “unwanted” and “low-end population” elements of the urban population, such as rural migrants, will be squeezed out of the city altogether.

Panorama of Shenzhen City, China. Image by Flickr User yuan2003 (CC BY-NC 2.0) [3]

Panorama of Shenzhen City, China. Image by Flickr User yuan2003 (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Population cleansing

Similar population cleansing has also taken place in Shenzhen as part of the “One Hundred Days Movement” starting from April 11, 2011, through to July 31 2011. The city aims to meet its target to get rid of 80,000 “highly dangerous people” to prepare for the 2011 Universiade [4] international university sporting event. As Mary Ann O'Donnell points out in her blog [5], Shenzhen Noted:

the Universiade clean-up reminds us that yes a hukou [6] [house registration system] matters, not by its presence, but in its absence. Shenzhen is not simply putting in the infrastructure to improve public safety, but has built into that network a tendency to target those who are least able to protect themselves.

She also rightly points out that apart from the crackdown on dissidents, social control happens day-to-day, with door-to-door sweeps, for normal people:

I hope that as discussions of Ai Weiwei’s incarceration continue and as necessary attention is directed at the way the Chinese state surveils its white-collar populations of computer hackers and experimental artists, we also keep in mind Shenzhen’s 80,000 unnamed slackers / hooligans / drifters who are suddenly not here. Surveillance at this lowest of levels occurs through door-to-door sweeps that indiscriminately clean out the good, the bad, and the ugly. Indeed, the lack of documentation about three withouts’ lives, their collective lack of hukou, legal income, and fixed housing means that at the end of the movement, all that remains are traces of what may or may not have happened, which assuage white-collar anxiety, but do not make us safer.

Shenzhen and Beijing are not isolated cases; it is quite clear that the belief is that to impose better social control in urban areas, similar population cleansing would need take place in other major cities. Not-old-nor-spicy is rather pessimistic about the situation [7] [zh]:


Beijing has a “low-end population”, Shenzhen has a “highly dangerous population”. You better leave now rather than waiting for someone to kick you out. Beautiful cities have to be reserved for the “high-end population” and “highly stable population”. Here I say: in rich areas, the poor are the “highly dangerous people” while in poor areas, the wealthy are the “highly dangerous ones”.

No-brother points out [8] [zh] that such social control strategy is unlawful, wrong and will end up in creating more social conflict:


[…] …其三,也是一个最重要的概念要厘清,这就是“高危人口”还是不是共和国的公民。有了这一条,大家就明白了深圳的做法到底是对是错了。

I have the following questions: 1. How can one define “highly dangerous population” in our law? 2. For those who have been cleaned out, where should they be settled? 3. What if they returned to the city after they have been cleaned out? Based on my limited legal knowledge, the Shenzhen government has violated people's rights.

[…] …Thirdly, whether or not the “highly dangerous population” are citizens of PRC [People's Republic of China] is a fundamental concept to be addressed. With such basic understanding, we can understand if the Shenzhen government is right or wrong.

Our country is in a transformative stage, we have a lot of complicated social conflicts. We have to explore effective ways of social management, transforming “social control” into “social management”, “rule of people” into “rule of law”. If all cities follow Shenzhen's example, what would our society look like? We could not clean all the “highly dangerous population” out of China, right? Shenzhen, please stop doing this!

Creating enemies

Indeed, in an online poll [9] [zh] on the website umiwi last year about Beijing policy against the “low-end population”, more than 85% (1,782 votes) of the respondents were against such kinds of population cleansing measures. Below are three of the most popular comments in the poll:

onghen778:去北京干嘛 实现梦想就一定要去那里? 幼稚。 中国人就是喜欢跟风 另外什么叫做低端人口? 没钱就叫低端 有钱就叫高端 人本不分贵贱 是北京人不等于你就是高人一等了 尊重和敬仰别人 不是看一个人的地域来的。 2010-08-08 12:33

onghen778: Why go to Beijing? It is naive to look for dreams there. Chinese people like to follow the trend. What is “low end population”? The poor are low-end while the rich are high-end. I don't care about rich and poor. Being a Beijinger doesn't mean that you are “high”. Respect should not come from the place of one's residence. 2010-08-08 12:33

小花兔转转杯:什么叫低端人口?北京本地人就是北京人口么,有那么多的人在为北京的建设做出了不可磨灭的贡献,北京人在享受的同时居然 将其化为低端人口,北京人就不是中国人么,北京就不是中国的领土么,那中国人在中国的领土上生存有什么不对?适者生存,不适应的人自然会离开,如果你感到 不适应了,也许应该你离开,而不是什么所谓的低端人口。2010-08-08 00:51

little bunny: What is low-end population? Only the locally-born are Beijingers? So many people have contributed to the construction of the city. Now Beijingers are enjoying good facilities while defining the “outsiders” as “low-end population”. Bejingers are also Chinese, Beijing is part of China. All Chinese people have the right to live in Chinese territories. For those who can adapt to city life, they will remain in the city. For those who can't, they can choose to leave. It has nothing to do with “low-end population”. 2010-08-08 00:51

欧羊游离:我说“相对论”同志,您白叫“相对论”了。既然是相对论,话要分两头说。首先,您为什么对号入座?您是不文明的那一个吗?您 是到处丢垃圾,到处随地大小便的那一个吗?您低头看看您的脚下,黑斑点点那是什么?是不文明的人随地吐出的口香糖。如果您的家里来的客人或亲戚这样不文明 的糟蹋您的家,您又怎样?我相信您不是不文明的那一个吧,您没必要对号入座吧?第二,我们之间应该不是矛盾的,矛盾在上边,上边既然把人分成高中低,想必 他认为自己是高端一族了,高端的人竟然说出这么没水平的低端的词,姑且不说政策的正确与否,先说这话就是“树敌”的。其实北京的百姓和其他城市的百姓一 样,同样是在付出,就像家庭过日子,家长主持的好,儿女团结又孝顺,家长主持的不好,儿女四分五裂,甚至忤逆乱伦的都有。所以我们都是儿女,都希望在家长 的呵护下过太平日子。您说是吗?我们都是普通人。2010-08-09 10:07

Diasporic Aoyang: Now I am being relative, so I will look into the other side of the coin. First of all, why do you have to put yourselves in the “low-end” category? Aren't you the civilized ones? Are you the one who litter or shit around? Look at the ground near-by, what is that dark spot? It is the chewing gum spat out by the uncivilized one. If someone visited your home and did that to you, how would you react to that? I don't believe that you are the uncivilized ones, right? Secondly, we don't have conflict among us. The conflict is up there on the top. They divide people into high, middle and low. They think of themselves being on the top and create such debased term. Let's not comment on whether it is right or wrong, they are making enemies. People in Beijing are just like people in all other city, they all contribute to society. Let's use family as an allegory, if the parents are fair, the children will be united and care for each others. If the parents perform badly, the children split up and relationships got messed up. We are all children and expected to have very good parents who love us and let us live in peace. Do you agree? We are just ordinary people. 2010-08-09 10:07

The resentment of the policy has transformed into political parody against the privileged. Below is one of the most popular parodies of the cleansing policy started by [10] [zh] prominent blogger Lianyue on Weibo:


In Shenzhen, there are 80,000 highly dangerous members of the population, how many of these types do we have all over the country? Some say 1.3 billion [Note: the size of the whole nation's population], my estimation is 80 million [Note: the number reminds readers of the estimated number of Chinese Community Party members] – they are stuck in China, without proper occupations, they act like gangster in a highly organized form. They cannot get adapted to human civilization while keep badmouthing the character of Chinese people.

So far (April 14, 2011 11:37 am) this thread has received 498 comments, most of them are highly critical of the 80 million highly dangerous population judgement:





…faking history to cheat people… they are not stuck in China, but they consume China like cancer.

They spread a negative image of the Chinese character, create rusty iron-clad mindsets, brainwash a large number of people to cover up chaotic phenomena originated from the political system.

They have 80 million members. It is the biggest, the most nasty and shameless triad society in the world.

They make their living through blackmailing Chinese citizens and they are getting more and more bloody in doing so.

This post is part of our special coverage Global Development 2011 [1].