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Mo Zhixu, December 14, 2017
In the evening of November 18, 2017, a fire broke out in the Jufuyuan Apartments (聚福缘公寓) in Beijing’s Daxing District (大兴区), prompting authorities across the city to begin “clearing out illegal apartments.” In an abrupt and sweeping action, tens of thousands of people were commanded to collect their belongings and vacate their homes onto the cold and windy streets of China’s capital. It was heart wrenching to watch.
The incident raised much online discussion. The drive to remove the so-called “low-end population” (低端人口) of Beijing harks back to the “shitizen” (屁民) phenomenon that arose a decade earlier in Shenzhen. For many, it is a blatant reminder that in China, a veil of prosperity and affluence conceals the poor state of human rights and even that of the Chinese human condition as a whole.
What Is Meant by ‘Low-end Population?’
A cursory look at the term “low-end population” suggests it is a concept of class, but detailed analysis shows this isn’t necessarily the case.
Firstly, “low-end population” in the Chinese sense refers exclusively to those from other regions. It is an identification status created by the household registration system (戶籍), as opposed to a class formed by market forces. Low-income but legally urban residents and poor rural dwellers may belong to a similar economic class, but they are not included among the “low-end population.”
Secondly, “low-end population” is partially defined by profession. As noted in the overseas edition of the People’s Daily on August 1, 2016, “low-end population” refers to “workers employed in wholesale markets inappropriately placed in megacities, or in mid-to-low-level industries.” Others, combing through past usage of the term, have discovered that “low-end” is often used primarily to characterize a type of industry, and as such it mainly refers to low-income people of low cultural background engaged in physical labor; in short, mostly rural migrant workers in the manufacturing or construction business.
By contrast, unskilled workers such as nannies, janitors, restaurant staff, deliverymen, etc. do not count as belonging to the “low-end population.” This is because they provide services essential for the “high-end population’s” standard of living and without them, the city’s functions would come to a halt.
In Beijing, the “high-end population” comprises first and foremost those in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) power structure, or the regime’s privileged class. As a result, some of the central authorities’ state-controlled media have commented sympathetically on the service workers among the “low-end population” who were affected by the recent expulsions, putting out phrases like “the city can’t only run on white-collar workers.” The starting point for their rhetoric is that these people are needed.
Lastly, it is possible to be considered “low-end” even if you are not economically poor. The stall owners in the wholesale markets make a sizeable income, even higher than that of the average middle-class resident. But because the customers at these markets are typically “low-end people,” the business is irrelevant to the needs of the “high-end population.” Thus even the affluent stall owners have themselves become “low-end people.”
In 2016, prior to the clearing out of illegal apartments, the famous Beijing Zoo clothing wholesale market, which boasted tens of thousands of stalls, was forcibly dispersed and the market closed.
As can be seen, the meaning of “low-end population” is determined entirely according to the needs of the “high-end” privileged class. It is derived from blatant discrimination based on status.
Why the Urgency to Clear People From the Capital?
Why is the city of Beijing in such a hurry to suspend the so called “non-capital functions” and remove people from the region? It’s impossible to explain this using an economic rationale. But looking at it from the political perspective and considerations of the privileged class, everything falls into place.
Beijing was the imperial capital of multiple dynasties and is built around a single center. After the CCP seized power, Mao Zedong rejected a proposal by Liang Sicheng (梁思成) to relocate the administrative center to a different part of the city. Mao criticized the architect’s ideas as an “attempt to deny that Tiananmen was the political center in the eyes of all the nation’s people.” Development of the new Beijing was therefore carried out radiating out in concentric circles from the government sector at Tiananmen and Zhongnanhai [the CCP leadership compound].
Liang Sicheng had his concerns: “Whether the multitude of government buildings are placed here in a meandering shape along narrow streets, or snaking about the edges of the massive public square, either option results in a long line of administrative workplaces. With the constant coming and going of vehicles, traffic will increase uncontrollably and the parking situation will be fraught with serious difficulties as well.”
After the year 2000, China began to industrialize. Beijing’s population increased rapidly, jumping from nearly 14 million in 2000 to 22 million in 2016. At the same time, the number of automobiles shot up from several tens of thousands to nearly 6 million in 2017. The daunting flow of people and vehicles overwhelming the single center validates the concerns Liang Sicheng raised back in the Maoist era.
The business day ahead of the mid-autumn festival in 2009, Beijing was hit by unprecedented traffic jams due to the high-level social gatherings and gift exchanges taking place at the time. “Cars couldn’t even get out of Zhongnanhai.” Rumor spread that following this experience, Hu Jintao gave the order: “Control the population, improve traffic.”
However, early decisions made by CCP authorities mirrored Mao’s architectural thinking. Moving the administrative district was out of the question given the need to “reinforce and safeguard the political center’s spatial security,” “safeguard safety and stability to ensure that the central military and political leadership can operate with high efficiency.”
As a result, the only option was to cut down the flow of people, vehicles, and goods in, toward, and around the core district. But as explained above, Beijing radiates outwards from a single center, so merely expanding the core to within the second ring cannot achieve this goal. They have to clean up all the rings one by one, to create some breathing room for the center.
This is the basic mentality behind Beijing’s need to weed out “non-capital functions.” Looking at the latest map of cleared-out areas summarized and provided by the media, it can be seen that virtually no distract is untouched. Put plainly, the people who are now freezing in the streets were expelled for the comfort and convenience of the privileged people occupying Zhongnanhai.
In a Totalitarian State, Who Isn’t a “Low-end” Person?
Just removing this small portion of the “low-end population” is clearly far from sufficient when it comes to satisfying the CCP regime’s need to ensure the convenience of its privileged class in the center core district. It can be assumed that even more “non-capital functions” and “low-end people” are awaiting treatment. But just who isn’t a “low-end person” in the coordinates of privilege?
Firstly, a “low-end person” is anyone who is unnecessary. University students don’t directly benefit the “high-end population,” so they can be considered transitional “low-end people” and thus be driven to the fourth or even sixth rings [Beijing’s beltways]. Beyond this group, the elderly and infirm provide no use to the “high-end population” and even consume extra resources, so the hospitals must also be relocated to the outer rings.
More importantly, to “reinforce and safeguard the political center’s spatial security” is meant in the political as well as the physical sense. Auxiliary to Beijing’s cultural, media, technical, education, and health resources, the city has developed some of its own competitive industries. In these industries, many are self-employed workers, specialized technicians, administrative staff, sales personnel and the like. They are a new social class, and a good part of the near 10-million population growth in the past decade belongs to this class.
This new class has intrinsic liberal tendencies. As a center of culture and cosmopolitanism, Beijing has become a multifaceted and dynamic stage. It is a ripe environment for nascent social movements. In the last few years, whether it’s the rights defense movement, the Charter 08 movement, or the New Citizens Movement, all of them began and were most active in Beijing.
Civil society and opposition movements have found space for expression in large part due to the existence of this new and large-numbered class. From the standpoint of the Party authorities, the presence of such a social class makes it possible for a repeat of the 1989 Tiananmen incident, should certain conditions converge.
Some commentators are already pointing out that the expulsions targeting the “new displaced class” are designed to preemptively halt large-scale social incidents. The logic is quite sound.
Getting to the core of the matter, the definition of “low-end population” in China is determined by the “high-end population,” that is, the demands of the privileged class. By clearing out “non-capital functions” to satisfy this privileged class, Beijing authorities have brought physical, emotional, as well as economic pain to a large number of people. As long as the government continues to operate on this logic with its premium on political security, still more people — including those currently involved and seemingly still in the ranks of the upper middle class — can be targeted according to their political leanings, societal potential, or perhaps just because of their numbers, and end up in the ranks of the “low-end population” all the same in a blink of an eye.
Mo Zhixu (莫之许), pen name of Zhao Hui (赵晖), is a mainland-based Chinese dissident intellectual known for his incisive views of Chinese politics and opposition.
Beijing Refugees and the New Displaced Class, Wu Qiang, December 3, 2017.
Campaign to Drive Out Migrants Slams Beijing’s Best and Brightest, The New York Times, December 11, 2017.
Do ‘We,’ the World’s Political Parties, Know That ‘We’ Have Issued an Initiative Extolling the CCP’s Global Leadership for a Better World?
Hu Ping, December 5, 2017
The World’s Political Parties Dialogue held by the Communist Party of China in Beijing closed on December 3, 2017. According to the Global Times, representatives who attended the meeting include Burmese leader and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, President of the Cambodian People’s Party and Prime Minister of Cambodia Hun Sen, President Choo Mi-ae of South Korea’s Democratic United Party, representatives of parties from traditionally friendly countries such as the United Russia Party and Communist Party of Vietnam, and representatives from G7 countries including the U.S. Republican Party, Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, the Conservative Party (UK), the Republican Party (France), and the Liberal Party of Canada.”
After the meeting the Xinhua News Agency published a document titled Beijing Initiative of Chinese Communist Party and the World’s Political Parties High-level Dialogue (Chinese).
Article 1 of the Beijing Initiative states: “We, the more than 600 Chinese and foreign leaders of nearly 300 political parties and political organizations from more than 120 countries attended, from November 30 to December 3, 2017, in Beijing, the Chinese Communist Party and the World’s Political Parties High-level Dialogue sponsored by the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China.” This means that the “we” in the Initiative includes the “more than 600 Chinese and foreign leaders of nearly 300 political parties and political organizations from more than 120 countries.”
Article 2 of the Initiative describes the theme of the meeting as the following: In-depth and extensive dialogues and exchanges were held at this high-level dialogue on themes such as ‘responsibility of political parties for construction of a community of a shared future for mankind and the building of a better world together’; on ‘ Xi Jinping’s Socialist Thought with Chinese Characteristics in a New Era’; ‘China in the New Era: New Developments and New Ideas’; and China’s Contribution to Creating the New World’… and other issues. It claims that the meeting reached a broad consensus and achieved complete success.”
Now on to Article 13 and 14:
13. We highly value the tremendous efforts and important contributions made by the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government with General Secretary Xi Jinping as the core in pushing forward the building of a community of shared future for mankind and a better world. We are pleased to see that “One Belt and One Road” has gradually shifted from idea to action, from vision to reality, and has achieved fruitful results in construction. The ideas and concepts put forward by China in the process of building the One Belt and One Road have also become increasingly popular. “The principle of achieving shared growth through discussion and collaboration” has been incorporated into the resolutions of the United Nations. The Silk Road principle of peaceful cooperation, openness, inclusiveness, mutual learning, mutual benefit, and win-win as its core has increasingly gathered a wide range of consensus. Connectivity of policy, infrastructure, trade, finance, and people-to-people exchanges has also provided important ideas for international and regional cooperation. Practice has proven that the “One Belt and One Road” initiative is in keeping with the trend of the times and is in the interest of all the people in the world. It has provided a practical platform for building a community of a shared future for mankind, for which we have all the fervent expectations and best wishes.
14. We are pleased to see that Xi Jinping’s socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era emphasizes the need to promote the building of a community of a shared future for mankind. This shows that the CCP is not only a political party that seeks happiness for the Chinese people but also a political party that strives for the cause of human progress. It not only pays attention to the welfare of its own people, but also has a world vision and shoulders the responsibility that a big party is meant to take. We also highly praise the courage of the CCP in its own revolution. Since the 18th CCP National Congress, the CCP Central Committee with Xi Jinping as the core has firmly and unswervingly pushed forward with comprehensive and strict rule over the party, continuously improving the party’s ability to govern and to lead, laying the most solid groundwork for the historical achievements and historic changes that China has made and also providing the most important guarantee for China to play the role of a responsible big nation and to make new and greater contributions to the world.
It is reported that Tony Parker, Treasurer of the U.S. Republican National Committee, also attended this meeting and made a speech. Therefore, he is certainly among the “us” in the Initiative. I would like to ask Mr. Parker: Do you also “highly value the tremendous efforts and important contributions made by the CCP and the Chinese government with General Secretary Xi Jinping as the core in pushing forward the building of a community of a shared future for mankind and of a better world?”
Are you also “pleased to see that Xi Jinping’s socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era emphasizes the need to promote the building of a community of a shared future for mankind?” While in Beijing, did you agree that “the CCP is not only a political party that seeks happiness for the Chinese people but also a political party that strives for the cause of human progress?” Mr. Parker, I’d like to hear your answers to these questions.
Hu Ping (胡平) is a leading dissent intellectual based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @HuPing1
President Xi says China will not export its political system, Reuters, December 1, 2017.
Wu Qiang, December 3, 2017
On November 18, a fire killed 19 people in Jiugong township, in the Daxing District of Beijing. A few days later, the city government launched a mass clearance operation of “low-end people” around the city’s suburban belt. Within a week, probably more than 200,000 of the “migrant low-end population living in Beijing” was evicted from their rental homes or workplaces.
Videos uploaded to social media, and reports by both citizen and mainstream media journalists, show that people living in the migrant worker “shantytowns” — village enclaves within urban areas — have been told that they have only two or three days to disband. The restaurants and factories in these shantytowns face marauding thugs who roam around smashing doors and windows. Their homes are invaded in the middle of the night by uniformed police, or auxiliary police, who kick in their doors and enter without permission, forcing them to evacuate under the threat of violence. The videos show them cold and homeless on the streets of Beijing in the middle of the night. Some pack onto trains taking them back to their home villages, while others look for temporary accommodations in nearby Hebei Province. Some simply linger on Beijing’s streets, refugees within China’s own borders.
The cruel and violent actions of the government have sparked fury and protest on Chinese social media. Some officially-controlled media, those which still retain some compassion, have published articles that offer veiled criticism of the Beijing municipal government’s policy. Civil society groups in Beijing, which have been under sustained repression for the last five years, have summoned up extraordinary courage to organize protests and relief. Alumni of Renmin University of China, Beijing intellectuals, and labor groups in China have published open letters of protest, for example.
What is particularly noteworthy is that, apart from the small number of Christian organizations and labor NGOs that reached out to help, some Beijing residents volunteered and organized their own relief networks, providing emergency accommodations, food, and jobs to the displaced. Hundreds of volunteers rolled up their sleeves and got involved, showing that civil society in Beijing, despite being under tremendous political repression, is still resilient and courageous.
Consideration of Political Security Underlies the Fascist Expulsion Campaign
As far back as February 2014, during his first inspection of Beijing, Xi Jinping proposed the idea of “relieving Beijing of its non-capital city functions (“疏解北京的非首都功能”).” In 2015 the State Council passed the “Programme on the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Coordinated Development (《京津冀协同发展规划纲要》).” In the same year, Beijing passed the “Beijing Municipal Party Committee and People’s Government’s Opinions on the Implementation of the ‘Program on the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Coordinated Development (《中共北京市委北京市人民政府关于贯彻〈京津冀协同发展规划纲要〉的意见》)’” and, in 2017, “Beijing Municipal Overall Development Program (《北京市总体规划》).” This indicated that China’s top leaders had made up their minds that Beijing’s population would be capped at 23 million, and cleaning out “superfluous people” would be a key task for the next two Beijing administrations, in addition to the urgent target of Beijing returning to its so-called “capital city functions.” The officials determined that “demonstrable results” would be reached in 2017. Thus, just as winter 2017 arrived, a suspicious fire in a low-rent apartment building in Daxing District presented the perfect pretext. Beijing municipal authorities, using their executive organs in every district where migrant workers dwell and their shops and factories operate, struck. Using the excuse of “fire safety” and an environmental requirement to convert households from coal to gas (煤转气), they orchestrated a mass mobilization of personnel, bringing in construction equipment accompanied by uniformed officers, directly entering the villages and getting to work expelling residents. That is how the ongoing humanitarian tragedy in Beijing was created.
The mass clearance is occurring shortly after Cai Qi (蔡奇), an associate of Xi Jinping, ascended to the office of Beijing Party Secretary around the 19th Party Congress in October. To be sure, it has been common for local Party cadres to kick into radicalist governance as a means of accumulating political merit and showing their loyalty to the top. Similar things took place during the G20 in Hangzhou (杭州), with a massive urban redevelopment plan that came with restrictions on city operations and vehicles, or in Xiamen (厦门), prior to the BRICS summit, where city officials took up a scorched earth policy for stability maintenance. Officials in Lijiang, Yunnan (云南丽江), forcibly shut down guest houses when the occasion called for it, and Shenzhen (深圳) officials have suddenly banned electric-powered scooters.
But there is more to what’s happening in Beijing now, in addition to scoring political points and realizing the central government’s desire to turn Beijing into a show-case city like Pyongyang. Defining why Beijing is undergoing urban redevelopment in People’s Daily in August, Cai Qi stated clearly that “political security” is the number one security issue in Beijing and is part of the national security.
A New Displaced Class
The difference between the current actions and the “arrest and control” of public intellectuals, dissidents, and NGO workers during the 2011 “Jasmine Revolution” in Beijing, is that Cai Qi’s target this time is a massive group of people. These are the “new displaced class,” the main target of expulsion in Daxing District and now in virtually all districts of Beijing. This group includes clothing manufacturers, small factory owners, home renovation laborers, others in the service industry, individual business owners, Taobao store owners, and other small business enterprises and self-employed workers. They — along with the construction workers now holed up under tents on work sites, as well as the contract and lease workers (派遣工) now sleeping in factories — all constitute a massive, growing group, a new displaced class. Their common characteristic is the lack of a stable and long-term employment relationship. They also lack social security or real estate. Compared to the mainstream class in society, they live on the margins of China’s urban environment. Ten years ago, the main representative of this group was the “migrant worker” (农民工), but with the rapid growth of urbanization and movements of people — in particular the relentless expansion of temporary employment relationships, the collapse of the social security system and the shrinking rights of city residents — this group continues to grow. They have now spread to the so-called low-skilled computer programming (码农) and traditional industrial workers.
Guy Standing of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London took note of this phenomenon in 2011. He discovered that the globalization of capital was creating a larger and larger displaced proletariat, from developing countries to the developed world. Their employment is unstable, their work hours are not set, their pay is not fixed, and their scale is massive — from the lowest-rung of work to traditional blue and white collar work. They include both “leased workers” in factory workshops and white collar working positions. They’ve become “The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class,” as Standing titled his book, a new source of social inequality and unease.
The first “displaced class” to arise in reform-era China were migrant workers and entrepreneurs who moved to cities. Today the faces of the displaced class have changed a little, but they’re all a part of the “new displaced class” in the backdrop of globalization. This is not an exclusively Chinese phenomenon, but it’s a trend that has deepened and expanded as China has globalized. This group has uncertain work, a lack of rights, informal contracts, no social security, unstable family environments, and exists outside the social mainstream. This description of the “precariat,” in fact, can be traced back to the Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels 170 years ago.
The growing competition among the bourgeois, and the resulting commercial crises, make the wages of the workers ever more fluctuating. The unceasing improvement of machinery, ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious; the collisions between individual workmen and individual bourgeois take more and more the character of collisions between two classes.
The unstable work and compensation of the newly displaced are creating a new form of inequality and insecurity, and also new forms of marginalization that they are unable to overcome. They may end up the objects of resentment due to wave after wave of “evictions,” whether scorned by city residents, or the nation as a whole. Put another way, the reason they are helpless in the face of expulsion is not because they suffer the feeling of inferiority of the so-called lower class. Strictly speaking, they are different from the lowest class. But, it is their lack of security and civil rights that makes them helpless in the face of violence. This is why the danger of the newly displaced is different in the eyes of the authorities from the Jasmine Revolution in 2011 although the group is big, living in close spaces and has the appearance of potential political confrontation.
Beijing: a City Gearing up for the ‘Beautiful Life’
Daxing District is located in the new Beijing airport’s “economic zone” (临空经济区) and is crowded because of its economic opportunities. So the evictions have been the most violent there. These shantytowns burn coal through the winter and create pollution, leading to frequent fires. They also lack law enforcement. “Zhejiang village (浙江村)” in Dahongmen has a high concentration of clothing manufacturers, logistics companies, repair workshops and houses large numbers of the newly displaced class. But such areas also frequently turn into places with appalling Kowloon-Walled-City-style living conditions; they are seen as a cancer on the outskirts of the city; and they provoke the authorities “sense of security.” They have become a sacrificial offering to the “beautiful life (美好生活)” policy unrolled at the 19th Party Congress. The existence of this class is incompatible with the “beautiful life” designated by the powers that be.
In addition, as the rising middle class has grown, so have internet industries such as courier and online sales services, changing the traditional urban landscape. Streets are filled with couriers, delivery trucks, and countless shared bikes. The expansion and instability of the new middle class has itself impacted many traditionally high-salaried industries and groups, including computer programmers and financial workers. Their temporary accommodations and shared housing arrangements also go against the notion of a “beautiful life” envisioned by the authorities.
By identifying the undesirable class of floating proletarian migrants and analyzing the Beijing government’s policy to “cleanse and reduce the low-end population,” we are bringing the state of this “non-citizenship” to the attention of the public and the international community. In Beijing and the rest of the country, this new and growing class of floating migrants who are “long-term temporary workers” is quietly altering China’s social class structure and urban landscape. They lack basic civil rights and the right of free movement into cities. Their unstable labor relations — that is, the obstacles caused by the backwardness of Chinese labor conditions and social security net — inform their unstable lifestyle that in itself poses a challenge to the urban space. Matters of household registration (户籍) aside, it is possible that this group of people will be used as an excuse for future discrimination and stratification by the state. This kind of stratification no longer entails the classic distinction between the modes of education and residence that once formed the gulf between proletariat and bourgeoisie.
In practice, recent years have seen Beijing’s poor move away from the old city quarters to the suburban districts at an accelerating rate as they search for economical housing, engendering a localized kind of class stratification.
A Genuinely ‘Dangerous Class,’ Perhaps
Placing ourselves in the aftermath of the 19th Party Congress, the net result of the authorities’ utopian designs for “a beautiful life (美好生活)” and hardline radical governance is a new kind of internal colonialism. Walls to maintain financial stability and to spatially isolate the new displaced class are being erected so as to guarantee what Cai Qi (蔡奇) calls “political security.” It is a reversal of the continuous breaking of social barriers during the 30-some years of reforms and opening up.
At the Davos World Economic Forum at the beginning of the year, China projected itself as the greatest proponent of globalization. Its arbiters are clearly taking a page from the statecraft of Li Hongzhang (李鸿章), a general and a diplomat of the late Qing Dynasty, whose Huai Army employed a fortress tactic to overcome the Nian rebels. In the same vein, firewalls are being erected everywhere. The tactic is being elevated to overall strategy: not only has the concept of internet sovereignty received heavy promotion; the “One Belt, One Road” is threatening to divide Europe. Meanwhile, in the United Nations, China has started proactively undermining the universal concept of human rights.
In the future, as Slavoj Žižek said in 2012, “to be exploited for the sake of holding of a long-term job is becoming a kind of privilege.” In the future, perhaps the only people allowed to live and work in Beijing will be elites and members of the new privileged class who accumulate a sufficient score in the new “social accreditation system.” Maybe there will be no more need for the display of state violence in the streets, which would be superseded by symbolic, big-data violence. This would be enough to ignite the increasingly intense class and spatial conflicts between the new displaced class and the mainstream class, creating human rights crises over and over again.
More Beijing refugees will likely be produced as a result of internal colonialism. At the same time, this new displaced class, in the course of repeated expulsions, could in theory find their self-consciousness and engage in independent societal grouping—becoming a genuinely “dangerous class.”
Dr. Wu Qiang (吴强) holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany. He is a researcher of social movements and a freelance writer.
Also by Wu Qiang:
Liu Xiaobo: The Founder of China’s Political Opposition Movements, Wu Qiang, June 30, 2017.
Thousands of Migrant Workers in Beijing Forcibly Evicted, Resistance Mounted in at Least One Location
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.
Follow us on Twitter @ChinaChange_org.
Yaxue Cao, November 27, 2016
Ms. Liu Huizhen (刘惠珍) is a villager in the District of Fangshan (房山区), on the southwestern outskirts of Beijing. She’s a victim of forced demolition who fought hard to preserve her property but lost it anyway. This year, she is one of the 70 or so Beijing residents who organized to compete for seats as district People’s Representatives. China held its once-every-five-year grassroots elections for county-district level People’s Representatives on November 15. In a joint statement, Ms. Liu and other independent candidates promised that “they will make sure every voter knows who they are and how to reach them with their problems, and as their representatives, will monitor the government and its functions.”
Financial Times, Washington Post, and other media outlets reported Ms. Liu’s candidacy. On November 17, BBC posted a striking 5-minute video of its Beijing correspondent John Sudworth visiting Ms. Liu, showing him blocked and manhandled by a throng of plainclothes cops, or government-hired thugs. The video went viral on WeChat, and got a lot of play on Twitter too.
On November 19, a CCTV journalist based in London — according to her Twitter bio in any case — with the handle @KongLinlin, accused John Sudworth of making “fake” news. She has since been identified as Kong Linlin (孔琳琳).
Several Twitter users, including BBC’s Stephen McDonell, asked her to point out which part of John Sudworth’s reporting was fake. She replied in Chinese:
“Liu Huizhen has been party to a lawsuit because of a housing demolition, and a BBC journalist in China got himself involved in the Chinese judiciary, trying to artificially lump together Chinese grassroots elections with a demolition suit. When he reported for Western audiences, he made no mention of the woman’s background, misleading people exactly the way he reported the Obama Red Carpet Gate.”
Ms. Kong is referring to the fact that Liu sued Fangshan District Housing and Urban-Rural Construction Committee for unlawful demolition and lost in the first instance and then, in 2015, the appeal.
In his reporting, Sudworth made no mention of the demolition suit, as it’s irrelevant to the elections. So how did Sudworth “artificially lump together Chinese grassroots elections with a demolition suit”?
Does Liu’s “background” matter in the elections, and in her role as an independent candidate? It appears to me that it’s the CCTV reporter who’s lumping together Liu Huizhen’s lawsuit with her participation in the elections.
Ms. Kong went on to explain why the story is supposedly fake:
“Isn’t he deliberately blurring this woman’s lawsuit and using Western political concepts to get involved in China’s rural economic disputes? Hasn’t he been making hate propaganda for BBC?” (Emphasis in original.)
Continuing to explain the alleged falsity of Sudworth’s reporting, she tweeted (English her own): “Deliberately reporting on unclear fact , depend on single resource ,misleading the audience .That is also a fake news.” (A Twitter user commented: “this is not how you type punctuation.”)
She picked it up some two hours later on November 20:
“A Chinese person who doesn’t abide by Chinese election laws but fantasizes that she can ‘participate’ in elections in the American way. It’s inevitable that she’d be ‘locked up’. Ms. Liu also supported Hong Kong independence — how could she have the right to be elected?”
According to Article 3 of China’s Electoral Law, “All citizens of the People’s Republic of China who have reached the age of 18 shall have the right to vote and stand for election, regardless of ethnic status, race, sex, occupation, family background, religious belief, education, property status or length of residence. Persons who have been deprived of political rights according to the law shall not have the right to vote and stand for election.”
Ms. Liu may have lost a civil lawsuit against her local government, but she’s not a criminal and has not been deprived of political rights. In November 2014, Liu and nine others in Beijing were detained for holding signs to support the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, and she was released after seven months in detention.
By now, many Chinese Twitter users were arguing with and ridiculing Kong Linlin.
A few hours later, Ms. Liu Huizhen, who recently joined Twitter, became aware of the unfolding argument and tweeted: “You are a Chinese journalist, and you have no regard for fact. All you do is sing the praise [of the Party]. Have you eaten up your own conscience?”
“I’m Liu Huizhen,” she continued, “they blocked me from leaving my home because I declared that I would take part in the elections as a candidate. The world wouldn’t know such ugliness if the BBC didn’t happen to capture the truth. Ms. Kong Linlin, you may eat you dog food with your conscience unperturbed, but you’ve got no right to insult me!”
“I’ve decided to tweet more details of my candidacy. @KongLinlin, open up your titanium dog eyes to see who’s violating the law,” Liu went on.
“I submitted my name [to the district’s electoral committee] in mid-October, 2016 to stand for election. Around 10 am on October 30, I picked up the voter recommendation form and candidate CV form. Around noon on the same day, I began to seek support in the No. 50 electoral zone. By the next day, 24 voters in my zone had signed on to recommend me as a candidate for office of People’s Representative.”
According to Article 29 of China’s Electoral Law, any citizen with the recommendation of 10 or more voters can enter the primary selection.
Liu continued, “What the BBC video revealed was only a tiny fraction of my far more complicated experience. The repressive agents were so blatant that not even policemen dared intervene. So you tell me: who is backing them? I can’t imagine there are journalists like Kong Linlin who would defend them! I ask the whole world to judge this. Thank you everyone!”
She attached photographs of the neighborhood posting of five candidates for the No. 50 electoral zone, and her ballot, where she wrote in herself and another candidate.
An hour later, the CCTV journalist resumed her attack:
“You should also disclose how you received guidance, and how much funding you received, from overseas anti-China hostile forces.”
“How did BBC accidentally videotape you? How did you accidentally have photos as proof when you supported Hong Kong independence? You’ve actively taken part in anti-China political activities. Stop pretending you’re an innocent village woman.”
Ms. Kong provided no evidence for these accusations. To a Twitter user who pointed out her distorted logic, she replied: “I also support legitimate candidates who use the ballot to gain rights, but those who are funded by foreign political forces will have no lawful right to stand for elections in China.”
To a Twitter user who criticized the Chinese government’s use of thuggery to stop independent candidates, Ms. Kong has this to say: “China prohibits the use of illegal assembly to participate in People’s Representative elections. If [she] wants to be elected as a representative the American way, [she] should go to the United States.”
One comment asked Ms. Kong: “How many people together constitute ‘illegal assembly’?” while another comment pointed out: “So far, Ms. Liu’s ‘violation’ of the law only existed in your mouth, but I saw with my own eyes the violation of law by the thugs, I also see that you are defending such violations of the law. …By defending such violations of the law, you don’t show your high ground in rule-of-law thinking, but the lowness of your moral standard.”
To a Twitter user who asked Ms. Kong to explain what a “legitimate” candidate is, she replied:
“First of all, [a candidate] cannot be manipulated by foreign forces. This is a basic requirement for candidates in any country.” She didn’t reply when the same Twitter user asked her: “Which law defines whether or not a candidate is ‘manipulated by foreign forces’? Who has the right to define it? Through what procedures is it defined? Or is it just an arbitrary decision from the lips of the relevant organ?” (i.e. official government body.)
Finally, CCTV’s Kong Linlin had this to say to Ms. Liu Huizhen:
“Ms. Liu, to petition your case, you go to the court. Nobody is blocking you from taking part in the elections, except that you have to go through appropriate procedures and abide by Chinese law. You mix your petition with illegal assembly, and in addition, you collude with foreign forces, and support Hong Kong independence. You are doing so many things, and each one of them endangers the country. Don’t be sold out by those people in the end.”
Because of this prolonged argument between Ms. Kong Linlin and Ms. Liu Huizhen and a good number of Chinese Twitter users, I scrolled down Ms. Kong’s Twitter feed and had a few more peeks into her world:
- On UK public opinion against the Hinkley deal: “Very close mind .” (English her own.)
- She likes to use the word “democrazy” to answer Twitter users who express disgust with her views.
- On the Hamilton cast reading a statement to Vice President-elect Mike Pence: “Insult your audience is not the real free speech.” (English her own.)
- On the execution of Jia Jinglong (贾敬龙): “If the case is so easy to judge ,why we need a professional judge .” (English her own.)
- On Syria: “…it is all because of Obama.” (English her own.)
- On the CCP and China today: “Chinese young people have to thank that big mountain that blocks the wind for them when they wear high-end earpieces and listen to music and discuss current affairs, spared of the fate of the Iraqi, Libyan, and Syrian refugees who are displaced or die on their journey because of the harm of color revolutions.”
- On Western media: “To understand the evil side of western media , they try to provoke and make more troubles on the rising China.” [English her own]
- On the UK: “Hahaha, The British,’ like a lion,they like to roar,but can no longer hunt.'” (English her own.)
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao
Compare Ms. Kong’s worldview to that articulated in these two propaganda videos released during the trials of four lawyers and activists earlier this year:
‘We Have a Fake Election’: China Disrupts Local Campaigns, the New York Times, Nov. 15, 2016
For Over 36 Years, Grassroots Elections in China Have Made No Progress – An Interview With Hu Ping, China Change, Nov. 1, 2016