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Beijing’s Mass Evictions of Migrant Workers Arouse Public Outrage in China

Beijing has started a citywide wave of demolitions and evictions within migrant workers’ communities. It is the biggest citywide clean-up campaign in a decade.

The campaign was triggered by a tragic fire on November 18. The fire broke out in a two-story building in the Daxing District, an area covering the southern suburbs of Beijing. The incident killed 19 people and injured eight people at least, most of them migrant workers.

 Firefighters walked the site of a fire that killed 19 people in the Daxing district.  Source: Visual China Group

Firefighters walked the site of a fire that killed 19 people in the Daxing district.

Source: Visual China Group

After the fire, the Beijing municipal immediately launched the campaign to demolish illegal construction which poses potential fire hazards. “Tens of thousands of migrant workers are being tossed out of their homes in the freezing cold and biting winds of the Beijing winter, with little or no notice beforehand,” reported by The Washington Post.

 A man pulls his belongings in a cart along the remains of a demolished building in Beijing, which has begun an eviction campaign after a deadly fire in the capital's Daxing district last week.  Source: IC

A man pulls his belongings in a cart along the remains of a demolished building in Beijing, which has begun an eviction campaign after a deadly fire in the capital's Daxing district last week.

Source: IC

Kezhu Su, a 38-year-old warehouse keeper who came to Beijing seven years ago with his wife, has to give up his career there and go back to his hometown, Shandong province.

“I don't want to leave Beijing,” Su said. “In fact, 90 percent of the people who get kicked out don't want to leave, but there's no place for us.”

Beijing government’s approach to migrant workers led to a nationwide outpouring of sympathy toward the poorer sections of society, the so-called the “low-end population.” The term was first used by state media around 2010 to refer to those who work in low-end service jobs. Recently, the local officials in Beijing brought this term up again in an official document regarding a new plan of migration management. The plan is approved by the Central Committee of CCP and the State Council this September to cap Beijing’s population at 23 million by 2020.

Among the Chinese public, it is therefore widely believed that the migrant workers fell to the victims of the tighter population control in China’s largest cities, pushing migrant workers to settle and access social services in smaller cities.

“This is quite good, let them go back to their hometowns and contribute there,” one Weibo user comments sarcastically, “Let people in the capital look after their own children, deliver parcels, repair the toilets, deliver takeaway food.”

 A migrant worker carries his belongings after being evicted from his home in the Daxing district of Beijing, on Saturday.  Source: Luna Lin/The Washington Post

A migrant worker carries his belongings after being evicted from his home in the Daxing district of Beijing, on Saturday.

Source: Luna Lin/The Washington Post

More than one hundred Chinese intellectuals signed a petition letter urging the Beijing government to stop using safety checks as an excuse to evict migrant workers from the city, reported the South China Morning Post. The letter reads:

“Beijing has an obligation to be grateful towards all Chinese citizens, instead of being forgetful and repaying the country people with arrogance, discrimination, and humiliation—especially the bottom income group.”

 A migrant family is leaving Beijing under the eviction. They had 15 minutes to clear all their belongings. Behind them is a big banner saying the great “Xi Jinping new era.”  Source: Twitter @QiZHAI

A migrant family is leaving Beijing under the eviction. They had 15 minutes to clear all their belongings. Behind them is a big banner saying the great “Xi Jinping new era.”

Source: Twitter @QiZHAI

The Beijing government, however, denied that it is targeting “low-end population” and claimed that the campaign was for the safety of the city and people only.

The Chinese authority meanwhile imposes fiercer censorship in response to the national outrage regarding this public event. A series of media reports and hundreds of commentaries posted on social media by Chinese citizens were deleted within hours.

However, even Chinese state-owned media found it hard to justify the evictions. “We are now in an era that calls for reforms and is mired in all kinds of social conflicts at the local level,” Global Times, a traditionally pro-government national newspaper, said in an editorial. “It's not reasonable for Beijing to close its doors to out-of-towners.”