China Change, November 29, 2017
On November 18, 2017, a huge fire broke out in Xinjian Village, Daxing County, in the Beijing suburbs, killing 19 people. Subsequently the Beijing municipal government launched a large-scale campaign known as “big investigation, big clean-up, and big rectification of hidden safety trouble,” issuing eviction orders that forced thousands of migrant workers to leave their residences in the freezing night. In official documents, they are referred to as the “low-end population.”
While the exact number is hard to estimate at this point, the eviction map suggests that the number is likely to be in tens of thousands.
Men, women, old and young migrant workers left Beijing in haste, dragging as many of their belongings as they could out of their shabby residences in villages outside of the Fifth Ring Road on the border of the city and leaving behind what they couldn’t carry. It was a mess, and many described the scene as a “disaster movie.” The majority of migrant workers who lived at the junction of the city and countryside worked in urban service industries, including construction workers, electricians, technical workers, security guards, express mail carriers, janitors, housemaids, nannies, restaurant owners, and street vendors. Their work guarantees the effective function of the city.
Many of them have lived and worked in Beijing for many years. Beijing has become their home. They have no other place they can call home or go back to anymore.
According to a blogger, a taxi driver reported that, in Malianwa, Haidian District (海淀区马连洼), he had seen three people hang themselves.
Located outside of the Fifth Ring Road in Chaoyang District, Beijing, Picun village (皮村) is a well-known area inhabited by migrant workers. As it is close to Capital Airport and there were plenty of employment opportunities, it had become a relatively large, and at its peak more than 30,000 migrant workers lived there.
Since 2002, a music teacher named Sun Heng (孙恒) and others founded a non-profit organization in Picun Village called “Home of Fellow Workers.” An elementary school, workers’ university, and a library were also opened. In April of this year, a story entitled “I Am Fan Yusu” based on the personal experience of and written by Ms. Fan Yusu, member of Picun Village Literary Group and a villager of Hubei Province who worked as a nanny, put Picun Village under an unprecedented spotlight (here and here).
On November 27, 2017, migrant workers in Picun Village received a notice that stated that they “must vacate before 6 p.m. on the same evening.”
As a migrant worker community with a certain degree of maturity and some ability to organize, the local NGO notified the media and citizens from all walks of life to pay attention to the forced-demolition notice after it had been posted, resulting in the postponement of the forced demolition to what was believed to be Friday, December 1 .
A reporter from Agence France Presse said that on Tuesday two reporters from the Chinese online news outlet “The Paper,” who conducted interviews at Picun Village, were pepper sprayed. But on Monday, when an AFP crew filmed people posting eviction notice, the dozen or so police officers watched on without interference.
This means that the police force was strengthened on Tuesday and that they had received new orders.
In December of last year the authorities cracked down on the NGOs of Picun’s migrant workers, forcing “Home of Fellow Workers,” a local NGO, to close.
Dr. Xu Zhiyong, a founder of the New Citizens Movement who had recently been released from prison Tweeted: “It is just like in those days when we made visits to black jails. Dark forces are afraid of sunlight. So the best way to help those targeted by the government this time around is to go to the sites of eviction, document them, and post them online.”
Indeed a lot of videos have been posted over social media this week. China Change picked two of them for our readers:
‘We are also Chinese. Why treat us like this? ’
Nov. 24, Beijing.
A man: “In 2008, you were welcome in Beijing. But now in 2017, Beijing finds you disgusting and kicks you out. “
Beijing: “Low-end population: “We are also Chinese. Why treat us like this?”
A man: “We are not allowed to live here. I heard that in the past few days, there have been nightly checks at 8 p.m.”
In Beijing, there are more than 21 million permanent residents, of which more than 8 million are residents from outside of the city. Recent eviction campaigns have left the “low-end population” from outside of the city with no place to go.
Ms. Cheng: “What do we think? We are very worried. We are also Chinese. Why treat us like this? We are not foreigners. We are also Chinese. Even if you want us to move, to go back, that’s okay, but you need to give us a couple of days. They don’t give us even one day. Look, grocery stores and supermarkets, it’s empty everywhere. There is no place to buy food.”
Ms. Cheng: “If you don’t move out by the end of the month, they will cut off water and electricity. Actually, he (the landlord) has no choice either. He treats us okay. He said that the higher authorities tell you what to do, you have to do it. Now everyone is looking for housing, but it can’t be found. I looked for housing for a whole day yesterday, but I didn’t find anything. They don’t let you rent. They don’t rent to outsiders. Now the situation is simply that they don’t want outsiders to stay in Beijing.”
(Reporter): As long as you are an outsider, you are not allowed to rent?
Ms. Cheng: “Yes, yes, yes. Most people around me are being driven out. The lease has not expired yet, but they are told to move. Now people everywhere are trying to rent a place in Beijing, but no one can find a place. If you have lived at a place for three days, and they check your ID, and you’re found to be someone from outside of the city, they will tell you to leave.“
(Reporter): “Tell you to leave? Who tells you to leave?”
Ms. Cheng: “Just those city inspectors and neighborhood committee officials. They came here to check. “
(Reporter): “If people like you are told to leave, will they refund your rent?”
Woman in blue coat: “No, they won’t. We spent all our money building the house. I still owe someone more than 200,000 yuan ($30,000). Where can I go? The only place I have is here until I die.”
The Youth of Picun Village
I am Xiao Hai (小海) from Poems and Songs of Laborers. A big fire has affected each and every one of us. Moving, relocation, and eviction have left us with no place to go. Whenever such major accidents happen, we see tremendous contrast between the confidence of those who post public notices and the distressed, panicked, helpless, and numb expressions on the faces of fellow workers who are busy moving out. I feel that we, who have existed in these narrow spaces, have kept our silence for too long. We too must make our voice heard. Where on earth can we go? Reality does not happen in grand offices or in conference rooms. Reality happens in crowded places, in the cold wind, in the streets!
Now, together with my fellow workers, I will read a poem called “Let’s Go, Children, with the North Wind of Beijing,” by Ms. Yu Xiuhua (余秀华):
Leave the sunshine to tomorrow
Leave it to the high-end people to glorify
Leave the happiness to tomorrow
Leave it to the high-end people
Leave the hope to tomorrow
Leave it to the high-end people
But let despair stay
The despair that is left to stay
Will be high-end despair
We have no place to go
But we are on the territory of the motherland
Wearing thin clothes in the cold
We are on the territory of the motherland
We own nothing at all
The motherland is all we have
The motherland in the Beijing accent
The motherland in dialects
The motherland in office buildings
The motherland in rental rooms
This motherland also belongs to them
To those who post the notices
To those who break the windows
To those who rob us when we are in a plight
Children, you must trust me
We live in a low place
But it is not low-end
You don’t attend aristocratic schools
But it is not low-end
Even though you are in rags
You are still not low-end
The low-end owns the narrow-mindedness of the low-end people
The kind-hearted have the tolerance of the kind-hearted people.
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