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After Authorities Evict Beijing's ‘Low-End’ Residents, Chinese Ask: Where Is the Humanity?

The banner reads: “It is everyone's responsibility to clear out the low-end population. People like tiding up the environment.” Viral photo on social media.

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 0 degrees Celsius 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:

说真的,大红门拆我没意见,我也拥护政府把违建,把消防隐患消灭掉。但是政府执法能否更人性化一些?人家房东赶房客还给一个月呢。就不能给老百姓一个月时间过度,不管是变卖大件物品、还是找下个落脚处,还是离开北京回老家都好。我不能理解为什么要如此仓促、我更不能理解为什么要赶走这些所谓低端的人群?中国已经没有类似孟买这样的贫民窟了,不过就是在北京打工生存一个月赚三千人家就想付个三百元床位费而已。可能人家老家有重病的妈妈,或者要上学的弟弟。…不可否认我们大方向的确比资本主义国家走的好,但北京地方政府这一次行为我觉得是劣政的典范。…心中没有百姓、只有政绩。

Really, I am not against the tearing down of the Dahongmen [clothing wholesale market] and I support the government’s policy up cleaning up illicit buildings for fire prevention purposes. But can law enforcement be more humane? If a landlord has to end a rental contract, he has to give a month's notice. Why can’t you give them a grace period so that they can sell their furniture, find a place to settle or plan for travelling back home? I don’t understand why it has to be done in such a hurry. And I don’t understand why the so-called low-end population has to be kicked out of the city. China does not have the kind of ghettos like those in Mumbai. These people, they just want to work in Beijing earning 3,000 per month and paying 300 for a place to sleep. They probably have old grannies, sick mothers or school-age brothers and sisters to take care of back home…I would say our development path is better than the capitalist country but this time the local government in Beijing has exemplified bad policy. …you don’t see people in the policy.

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:

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:

当我在北京市某些区的政府官方文件和报道中看到“低端人口”这个词的时候,我感到了一种极度的震惊和恐惧。
“低端人口”这个极具歧视性和侮辱性的词,本不应该出现在任何政府文件中 […]因为,这个词汇,这个提法,和马列主义是完全对立的,是和我们党的宗旨、路线、方针完全对立的!
所谓的“低端人口”,其实无非就是一些外来普通劳动者,他们来到这个城市,含辛茹苦,胼手祗足,用自己的辛勤劳动,为这个城市服务,为这个城市添砖加瓦,为自己的家人谋求更好的生活。

When I read the term “low end population” from some district governments’ documents and media reports, I was shocked and frightened. Such discriminatory and insulting term should never be appeared in government documents… Such term and such suggestion is totally against Marxism and Leninism, it is totally against our party’s principle and 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:

2017年11月18日,北京市大兴区发生一起特大火灾,19死8伤,其中8名儿童遇难。北京有关部门不是反思检讨自己的责任,不是第一时间前往现场慰问灾民,反而以此为由,迅速下发通知,集中40天开展以主要是底层民众的“外来人口”为对象的所谓安全隐患大排查、大清理、大整治专项行动。通知下发后,大兴等地以迅雷不及掩耳之势,大规模强力驱赶所谓“外来人口”,导致成千上万底层民众一夜间流离失所,预计还有数十万底层民众将被清理出北京,前景堪忧。
我们认为,这是一起违法违宪及严重践踏人权的恶性事件,应予坚决制止和纠正

On 18 of November 2017, a great fire broke out in Daxing district of Beijing city causing 19 deaths and 8 injuries. Among the victims, 8 were children. Rather than paying visit to the victims of the disaster and reflecting on their own responsibilities, Beijing authorities launched a 40 days campaign targeting migrants’ settlement in the name of security and fire prevention. After the notice was delivered, the law enforcement officials forcibly evicted the migrants overnight. Thousands of grassroots lost their home and according to estimation, ten of thousands would soon be kicked out. We believe that such an action is against our constitution and human rights. It should be stopped and corrected.

The group of intellectuals also expressed hope that Beijing’s city planning should reserve space for the grassroots:

对北京定位予以纠偏。必须清楚,北京不只集中了北京的资源,而且集中了全国的资源;北京的今天,北京的发展,不仅是北京市民奋斗的结果,更离不开全国人民长期的牺牲和奉献。因此北京有义务感恩全国人民,回馈全国人民, 而不是忘恩负义,以傲慢、歧视和羞辱回报全国人民尤其底层民众。强力驱赶主要是底层民众的“外地人口”这种对自己同胞的歧视,比外族人的歧视更甚,不能让其延续。北京的定位、北京的发展战略必须考虑这一点,必须具有人性、包容性,为包括底层民众在内的“外地人口”留出空间。

Beijing must reorientate its position. It has to be clear that resources in Beijing comes from the whole country. Beijing’s development relies not only on Beijing’s residents. People from the whole country have made contribution. Beijing has the responsibility to contribute back to the country rather than treating others, especially the grassroots with such arrogant, discriminative and insulting manner. Forced eviction of grassroot migrants who are their own country fellow is more insulting than discrimination against other races. Such situation is should not continue. The future Beijing development should take this into account. It should be humane and inclusive. Some city space should be reserved for the grassroot migrants.

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:

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:

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:

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”:

[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 rumor 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.

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