Posts Tagged ‘Beijing’

China New Year (Year of the Dog) Starts Quietly — Firecrackers, fireworks banned in the name of lessening air pollution

February 16, 2018

AFP

© AFP | A man prays with incense sticks to celebrate the Lunar New Year, which has had an unusually subdued start in Beijing
BEIJING (AFP) – Beijing began the Year of the Dog Friday with eerily silent streets, as the usual thunderous bursts of firecrackers and fireworks were silenced by a strict ban that sacrifices tradition in the name of an anti-pollution campaign.Overnight, police patrolled deserted neighbourhoods in the Chinese capital — normally abuzz with excitement as the country welcomes the arrival of the Lunar New Year.

“I never imagined it would be this quiet! It’s usually packed,” said a Beijing resident surnamed Wang who had been out in the city centre following a traditional New Year’s Eve family dinner.

A migrant worker from neighbouring Hebei province surnamed Zhu said that without the firecrackers, “the magic of the New Year is gone”.

The low-key celebrations were in stark contrast to previous years, when the streets were crammed with Beijingers setting off firecrackers and the sky was lit by near-constant firework displays, unleashing a deafening thunder until dawn.

But the tradition, conceived as a way to ward off evil spirits, has this year been targeted by authorities anxious to lower winter pollution levels.

Some 440 Chinese cities have banned the use of firecrackers and fireworks — which are also set off during weddings or when moving house — since last year. Beijing introduced a ban in December.

“Like all Beijingers, I have been lighting firecrackers since I was a child. But times have changed (…) air quality is what matters most to people now,” said a man who gave his surname as Zhang.

The government has launched a huge campaign to reduce pollution during the winter, ordering polluting factories to leave Beijing and its surroundings, and designating “no-coal zones” where more than three million homes have abruptly switched to gas or electric heating.

In 2017, the level of PM2.5 particles — which penetrate deep into the lungs — in Beijing over the New Year was 26 times higher than the level recommended by the World Health Organisation.

But on Friday the sky was a brilliant blue.

“It (the ban) is a good thing, given the disastrous state of the environment,” said Xi, a young student, before adding: “Even if it deprives us of a little pleasure”.

– Peace and quiet –

Safety is another reason behind the ban. Every year there are numerous accidents caused by pyrotechnics, many of which are of poor quality in China.

Dong Weiwei, a resident who had volunteered to patrol his street, stood ready to alert police should he see anyone flouting the new regulations.

“In the past I have seen people wounded, an eight-year-old child whose finger was blown off by a firecracker explosion,” he said.

In southwestern Yunann province, a fireworks explosion killed four people and injured five others Thursday night, state media said.

The ban has made some happy, including Zhu Ye, an elderly Beijinger who took advantage of the peace and quiet to take her dog Xiao Mi for a nighttime walk.

“I no longer liked it at my age… with the fireworks and firecrackers everywhere, we didn’t dare to go out,” she said.

“But this year, there are not many people in the streets and I am finally able to walk my dog.”

Ahead of New Year celebrations, hundreds of millions of Chinese travel back to their home towns, often on crowded trains, making it in the world’s largest annual human migration.

Meanwhile in Hong Kong a spectacular fireworks display scheduled to mark Lunar New Year was cancelled as the city mourns victims of a deadly bus crash.

A speeding double-decker overturned in northern Hong Kong on Saturday evening, killing 19 and leaving more than 60 injured, some critically.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said residents were grieving and wanted “to express their sombre mood”.

In Shanghai thousands flocked to temples to pray for good fortune.

While in Nepal, exiled Tibetans living in Kathmandu carried images of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, as the community — estimated to number in their thousands — gathered to celebrate Lhosar, the Tibetan Lunar New Year, with traditional music and food.

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Migrant worker evictions tear at Beijing’s backbone

January 4, 2018

AFP

© AFP / by Ryan MCMORROW, Joanna CHIU | Lin Huiqing moved to Beijing to look for work when his children were still in diapers

BEIJING (AFP) – They fuelled their nation’s dramatic economic rise, toiling in jobs far from home, but China’s migrant workers are now finding themselves increasingly unwelcome as authorities try to cap the population explosions in key cities.Lin Huiqing moved to Beijing to look for work when his children were still in diapers.

For the last eighteen years, he has seen his family just once a year, the rest spent doing the hard labour most Beijingers would prefer to avoid.

The 50-year-old is one of hundreds of millions of migrants who moved from the countryside to the cities, a colossal demographic shift that made China’s ascent possible.

But last month Lin was evicted from the village where he lived on the capital’s outskirts, another victim of a city-wide demolition plan to limit Beijing’s population to 23 million by 2020 — a target that could come at the cost of its economy.

“If I go home, I have no way to support my wife and kids,” Lin lamented.

According to the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily, the city plans to demolish 40 million square metres of “illegal” structures.

Many are the homes and shops of low-income migrants like Lin.

When he first arrived in Beijing, Lin and his friends pooled their money and took out loans to purchase delivery trucks.

He made a living hauling the wares of small-scale shopkeepers and traders, but the moving business has taken a hit as the city condemns buildings en masse, evicting tens of thousands into the winter cold.

“Our customers are commoners like us,” he said. “With their small businesses shut down, there’s no stock for us to move. We’re basically unemployed now.”

– ‘Can’t make it here anymore’ –

Authorities say the campaign, which kicked into high gear after a fire in an illegal structure killed 19 in November, is needed to clean the city up once and for all.

But it is also removing vibrant chunks of Beijing’s economy, such as retail and small scale manufacturing, and throwing into chaos other sectors like delivery, the bedrock of the booming e-commerce trade.

Relegated to the periphery, migrants have kept China’s economy humming, handling the difficult, dirty and sometimes dangerous work that the city’s permanent residents won’t do.

Urban industries like construction, domestic work and sanitation are almost completely staffed by migrants.

Eli Friedman, associate professor of international and comparative labor at Cornell University, said China’s biggest cities “simply cannot function without migrant workers”.

“If every non-local were to actually be removed from cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, these economic engines for the whole country would completely collapse,” he told AFP.

But that is exactly what is happening, said Li Ning, one of the 60,000 delivery drivers who criss-cross Beijing’s streets.

Li was recently evicted from a village on the city’s outskirts, forcing him into an apartment where the rent quadrupled.

Then authorities came for his delivery company’s warehouse, forcing staff to sort packages on the sidewalk and sending his income plummeting.

“In Beijing all the migrants are leaving. We can’t make it here anymore,” he said, adding he plans to leave for good during the upcoming spring festival.

Another delivery franchise owner surnamed Wang said she will “give up” if authorities knock down her current warehouse, which they marked in black paint with the character “chai” — (demolish) — in mid-December.

She had just moved in December 1, after she had to close two other delivery hubs this year, forcing her to cut her work force from 240 couriers to 60.

“There’s no stability. I don’t know what I’ll be facing tomorrow,” she said, tears welling in her eyes.

– ‘Now we have to start over’ –

The demolitions have also hit Beijing’s retail sector, decimating once affordable mom and pop shops and pushing consumers online or into high-end malls.

Two years ago, Ge Guoxiang moved with his wife from their home province of Jiangsu to take over his brother’s textiles stall.

It had thrived for over 20 years in Beijing’s Tuanjiehu Tianyu market. But three months ago, they received notice that authorities will shutter the market.

Dozens of small-scale community markets have been forced to shut down this year — including the iconic Beijing Zoo market, where hundreds of merchants organized rare street protests against the evictions.

Officials said they have designated certain areas in the neighbouring Hebei province where merchants can move their businesses to.

But Ge is unconvinced.

“It takes years for businesses like ours to build up clientele. Now we have to start over,” he said.

“Our clients are mostly older people who don’t know how to shop online. Where will they go?”

by Ryan MCMORROW, Joanna CHIU
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China’s Chongqing gas exchange aims to be Asia price benchmark

December 29, 2017

Above, a resident stands next to a newly installed gas meter in Xiaozhangwan village at the outskirts of Beijing. China is also struggling to build the infrastructure needed to freely distribute gas supplies. (Reuters)

CHONGQING, China/SINGAPORE: China plans to launch a natural gas exchange in Chongqing in early 2018, aiming to create an Asian price benchmark as the nation’s use of the fuel surges amid its shift away from coal.

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China is the world’s third-biggest consumer of natural gas behind the United States and Russia. An exchange in its fast-growing market would be a strong contender for an Asian gas marker off which other supplies in the region could be priced.
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The Chongqing Oil and Gas Exchange — supported by state energy majors, and private and local government-backed gas distributors — would provide a trading platform for domestic output, pipeline imports from Central Asia and Myanmar, and imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
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Chongqing is China’s second attempt to develop a traded gas market, having set up a similar exchange in 2015 in Shanghai.
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An Asian gas price benchmark to stand next to those of the United States and Europe is seen as a key missing piece in establishing a truly global market for natural gas.
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“The exchange is a product of the government’s reform push — to hand the pricing power to the market,” Exchange Chairman Zhang Bowen told Reuters.
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“The long-term goal is to build the exchange into a benchmark for Asia and to win China its deserved pricing power,” said Zhang, who was previously president of PetroChina Kunlun Energy.
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The exchange, led by a board of nine directors including a former PetroChina executive and an ex-senior state planning official, expects to launch electronically-based spot trading of pipeline gas and LNG imports in the first half of next year.
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Registered in Chongqing municipality in July with 1 billion yuan ($150 million) in capital, the exchange has a team of 30, including former market developers at state-owned energy giants CNOOC and Sinopec.
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“A China gas hub certainly looks attractive from a supply/demand and infrastructure perspective,” said Jeff Brown, president of consultancy Facts Global Energy (FGE).
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Chongqing exchange is appraising around 200 potential members, mostly from the consuming hub of eastern China, and will be open to foreign participation in the longer run, said exchange executives.
Still, there are several challenges to overcome, for Chongqing or any other exchanges hoping to establish an active gas trading platform.
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“The biggest would be that the government is still heavily involved in ‘guiding’ prices. Access to pipelines and import terminals can also be difficult,” said Brown.
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China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) currently sets wholesale or city-gate gas prices by linking them to alternative fuels such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and fuel oil.
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Investors fear China could be as heavy-handed with gas as it has been with coal. Authorities have repeatedly intervened whenever coal prices have risen sharply, contributing to the virtual death of coal futures in Asia.
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China is also struggling to build the infrastructure needed to freely distribute gas supplies. An inadequate pipeline grid and insufficient storage helped to trigger a supply crunch this winter after millions of households were switched from using coal to gas for heating.
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“Pipelines need to be more connected and greater access allowed for third parties to the grid and terminals. More investments are needed to boost gas storage,” Song Dacai, chairman of the Chongqing exchange’s supervision committee and formerly a pricing official with the NDRC.
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The exchange, though, is confident rising demand and slowly expanding gas infrastructure will help it succeed.
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Chongqing, with its population of more than 30 million and proximity to Sichuan province’s large gas basin, already has a relatively well-developed gas grid, and distributors there are keen to participate on the exchange.
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“As an investor, we are keen to become a market maker, provided that suppliers are ready to post meaningful volumes for us to trade,” said Luo Jing, deputy head of gas development at China Gas Holdings, a piped gas distributor.
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State majors are expected to nominate available volumes on the exchange annually or bi-annually, said Zhang, the exchange chairman.
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Others that are trying to develop regional gas exchanges as the basis for an Asian benchmark include Shanghai Petroleum and Gas Exchange and the Japan Korea Marker (JKM) by S&P Global Platts.
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The Shanghai exchange, launched in 2015, has so far failed to attract much trading interest. China’s financial hub, though, is seen as a potential oil and gas trading center and likely home of China’s long delayed crude oil derivatives contract.
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In many way, the JKM, an LNG price assessment, is seen as the strongest contender to become a regional gas benchmark.
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“JKM seems to be gaining steam as an Asian gas price … Since LNG is the most commoditized gas in Asia, it seems best placed to emerge as the Asia price marker,” FGE’s Brown said.

10,000 killed in China’s 1989 Tiananmen crackdown: British archive

December 23, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Beijing residents gather around the smoking remains of over 20 armoured personnel carriers — burnt by demonstrators during clashes with soldiers near Tiananmen Square — on June 4, 1989

BEIJING (AFP) – 

At least 10,000 people were killed in the Chinese army’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, according to a newly released British secret diplomatic cable that gives gruesome details of the bloodshed in Beijing.

“Minimum estimate of civilian dead 10,000,” the then British ambassador Alan Donald said in a telegram to London.

The document, made public more than 28 years after the event, was seen by AFP at Britain’s National Archives.

The estimate, given on June 5, 1989, the day after the crackdown, is almost 10 times higher than estimates commonly accepted at the time, which generally reported a toll ranging from several hundred to more than a thousand dead.

But French sinologist Jean-Pierre Cabestan said the British figure was credible, pointing out that recently declassified US documents gave a similar assessment.

“That’s two pretty independent sources which say the same thing,” said Cabestan, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University.

The British ambassador’s report was “not particularly astonishing considering how crowded it was in Beijing, the number of people mobilised” against the Chinese government, said Cabestan, who was in the Chinese capital in the days leading up to the crackdown.

Donald’s account gave horrific details of the violence unleashed on the night of June 3-4 when the army entered Beijing to end seven weeks of protests on Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heart of Communist power.

During their advance, armoured personnel carriers “opened fire on the crowd (both civilians and soldiers) before running over them in their APCs,” wrote the ambassador, who said his source was a person who “was passing on information given him by a close friend who is currently a member of the State Council”, the Chinese cabinet.

Once the soldiers arrived in Tiananmen Square, “students understood they were given one hour to leave square but after five minutes APCs attacked,” Donald wrote.

“Students linked arms but were mown down including soldiers. APCs then ran over bodies time and time again to make ‘pie’ and remains collected by bulldozer. Remains incinerated and then hosed down drains.”

At the end of June 1989, the Chinese government had said suppression of the “counterrevolutionary riots” had killed 200 civilians and several dozen police and military.

Nearly three decades after the crackdown, the communist regime continues to forbid any debate on the subject, mention of which is banned from textbooks and the media, and censored on the Internet.

China police detain artist who documented migrant evictions — China cleans up its society — “Sweeping away undesirables”

December 18, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Joanna CHIU | Doors sealed by authorities after residents were evicted from a migrant village on the outskirts of Beijing

BEIJING (AFP) – Beijing-based artist Hua Yong has been detained by police after documenting the mass eviction of migrant workers from the Chinese capital, his friends said Monday.”His current situation is unknown. We have contacted his family and lawyer and legal formalities are being processed,” according to a handwritten statement posted to Hua’s Twitter account and signed by artists Ji Feng and Guo Zhenming.

In the weeks before he disappeared, Hua uploaded dozens of videos on YouTube and Chinese social media platform WeChat documenting the destruction of migrant neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Beijing.

Since setting up a YouTube account only two weeks ago, his videos have been viewed tens of thousands of times and some have been translated by others into English.

Hua was taken from a friend’s home in the northern city of Tianjin in the early hours of Saturday after fleeing Beijing to evade police, other friends told AFP.

“Police grabbed him. Didn’t you know? Nobody is able to contact him,” one of them said on condition of anonymity.

The Tianjin public security bureau could not be reached for comment.

– ‘Ruined in an instant’ –

Hua’s videos, usually shot with a selfie stick, brought viewers into recently demolished migrant neighbourhoods and recorded his conversations with displaced low-income workers.

In one he walks between heaps of rubble, gesturing around him and saying, “The sky is very blue today. But look at what’s behind me, all ruined in an instant.”

On Friday night Hua posted several videos on his Twitter account entitled, “They’re here”. In the videos he said police were at the door and he would soon have to leave with them.

“Daddy is using these last minutes to sing you a song, ‘Happy birthday to you’ … Daddy wants our country to be better; It should be just, fair, free and democratic with free speech,” Hua said, addressing his three-year-old daughter.

Hundreds of millions of migrants who moved from China’s countryside to its cities fuelled the country’s dramatic economic boom in recent decades.

But some are no longer welcome in overcrowded Beijing, which seeks to cap its population at 23 million by 2020 and demolish 40 million square metres of illegal structures — mostly shops and homes for migrants — by the end of the year.

Authorities argue that they need to clear dangerous buildings after a fire killed 19 people last month. A blaze in another migrant area killed five people last week.

Fire safety is a major problem in the city’s cheap migrant housing, which often has jerry-rigged electrical wiring and an absence of emergency exits.

But the brutal efficiency of the demolitions and mass evictions has provoked an unusual public outcry that has put officials on edge.

Amnesty International China researcher Patrick Poon said authorities are “very concerned” that discussions about the topic will harm China’s image.

President Xi Jinping has led a sweeping crackdown on civil society since taking power in 2012, targeting everyone from human rights lawyers to celebrity gossip bloggers.

In recent years activists have been jailed on charges such as “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, “subversion of state power” and defamation for spreading “false rumours” online.

“Ironically, by targeting Hua Yong, it further hurts China’s image when even documenting what happened could be justified as a crime,” Poon told AFP.

by Joanna CHIU
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Stark Reality of Chinese Communism — Bustling Beijing migrant area turns into ghost town — closed with concrete and barbed wire

December 15, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Dead leaves litter the pavement after authorities swept through the area in a controversial city-wide eviction campaign

BEIJING (AFP) – The narrow alleyways of the Beijing migrant neighbourhood were once crammed with men cooking on outdoor stoves, women hanging clothes to dry and young children playing games.Now dead leaves litter the pavement as a bitterly cold wind blows through empty lanes after authorities swept through the area in a controversial city-wide eviction campaign.

 

It is one of the myriad migrant neighbourhoods in the capital of 23 million people that have been turned into ghost towns as the government shuts down and demolishes illegal or unsafe structures.

Authorities stepped up the controversial expulsions last month, arguing that they have to clear dangerous buildings after a fire killed 19 people. A blaze in another migrant area killed five people on Wednesday.

The harsh tactics sparked uproar as rural migrants who had been seeking a better life were suddenly given hours to vacate homes in the shivering cold.

When AFP journalists visited Houchang Cun — “the village behind the factories” — in the summer, residents in one densely populated section had been warned that evictions were looming.

This is the scene of desolation the reporters found when they recently returned to the single-storey brick homes.

– Taps off –

In August, shirtless men washed vegetables, brushed their teeth or cleaned themselves in the only facility with running water in the urban “village”.

Today, litter is strewn around the empty space under its tin roof.

The tables that people used to place their bowls or toiletries on are gone.

Even the silvery spigots have been ripped off the walls.

– Movers moved –

Many of the residents were movers. Zhang Zhanrong, a mother in her early 30s, ran her own moving business.

She lived in a one-room dwelling with her husband and son. Wearing a blue dress, she served dinner on a small table, next to a bed and tall armoire.

The mattress now rests diagonally against the wall while the makeshift stove which she shared with her neighbour outside their brick homes is gone.

– Sealed doors –

As the homes were so small, much of life took place outside in the lanes whose entrances have been closed with concrete and barbed wire.

A large grease stain is left on a brick wall where a woman used to cook meals outside her home.

A poster of Chairman Mao Zedong surrounded by officials that hung on a wooden storage space is gone.

An abandoned sink lies on the pavement in front of a home where a woman once hung shirts while another woman washed clothes in a green plastic bucket.

A nail remains on a wall where a woman used to hang garlic.

Purple and flowery sheets are still draped over some entrances in the deserted alleyway.

A mop still hangs from a window next to where a man held his baby in his arms months ago.

The green and brown doors are all shut and bear an official white seal with different dates of evictions in November.

– ‘No use to protest’ –

One couple remained behind, spending days sitting on blankets on a corrugated metal rooftop.

“There’s no heating where we are so it’s warmer out here in the sun,” the husband said, declining to give his name, on a below-freezing day.

The man plans to leave Beijing after he receives his last paycheque from his job as a maintenance worker.

Many residents hailed from the same hamlet in Pengshui, a mountainous region in southwestern Chongqing province, and relocated to Beijing to work menial labour jobs or to start small businesses.

Evictees said they received no compensation and feel forced to return to a place where they have no way of making a living.

“There is no use to protest,” said a woman surnamed Wang. “It will all be gone sooner or later.”

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Campaign to Drive Out Migrants Slams Beijing’s Best and Brightest

December 12, 2017
A start-up incubator in Beijing’s Zhongguancun area, known as China’s Silicon Valley. Young tech workers have been caught in the government’s campaign of evictions. Credit  Bryan Denton for The New York Times

BEIJING — With coding skills, a foreign degree, fluent English and an apartment barely big enough for his espresso maker and two cats, Si Ruomu thought he was the kind of go-getting young tech worker that Beijing needs to thrive in the 21st century.

That was before the police arrived at his apartment building and ordered him and hundreds of others to vacate within 48 hours. Like most of his fellow tenants, Mr. Si had come from elsewhere in China to find work in the capital, which often treats migrants virtually as second-class citizens.

“One minute you’re drinking espressos, the next you’re being evicted,” said Mr. Si, 28, a bespectacled programmer who grew up in northern China and studied computer science in New Zealand. “I’m starting to think whether people like me have a future in Beijing.”

As Beijing has launched its most aggressive drive in decades to rid itself of unwanted migrants, the brunt of the crackdown has fallen on laborers from the countryside. But it has also hurt a different kind of migrant: educated and ambitious white-collar workers drawn to the city’s new economy of tech, finance and hospitality industries.

Si Ruomu, a computer programmer from northern China, was evicted from his one-room apartment in southeastern Beijing. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Beijing is a cultural, technological and commercial capital as well as a political one, and the tenements on its outskirts are home to tens of thousands of hopeful young college graduates who have moved here seeking better jobs and better lives.

These job seekers are treated as migrants in their own capital, because China’s biggest cities are fortresses of official privilege, especially Beijing. The government gives inhabitants who hold permanent residence papers, called hukou, more generous access to housing, schools and health care. But migrants must pay more for many services, and many live on the edges of Beijing, where rents are lower.

Now whole swaths of these neighborhoods have been emptied out and in many cases reduced to rubble as the authorities condemn buildings as unsafe or illegal and order migrants to leave.

That has ignited debate about how Beijing can function without the blue-collar migrants who serve as its cooks, cleaners and vendors, but there are also worries the campaign might harm the city’s fast-growing tech sector, which employs armies of migrants who work for relatively low pay.

“You can find this new displaced class in nearly every sector and business in the city, including manufacturing and I.T.,” said Wu Qiang, a researcher in Beijing who has written about the expulsions. “The growth of a marginalized, unprotected work force is a global phenomenon, but in China it’s especially found in so-called ‘villages in the city’ where migrants live.”

When the authorities arrive with eviction orders, many migrants search for newer, safer homes even further from the city center. Others say they may abandon Beijing to find work elsewhere.

“This will certainly change my impression of this city. I don’t really want to stay in Beijing,” said Zhang Mi, 25, a web application developer from Hebei, the province surrounding the capital, as he crammed his bags into a van after being evicted.

Residents and movers carting belongings away from a condemned housing complex in the Banjieta district of northern Beijing. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Most migrants in Beijing are manual laborers but a growing number are college graduates — nearly 30 percent, according to a 2015 study. Another study found that the city’s software and information technology sectors employed about 346,000 migrants.

“To young tech workers like me, there’s really no option — only the big cities like Beijing have more opportunities,” said Hu Xianyu, 22, an intern at Baidu, the internet search giant, who moved to Beijing from the northern province of Shanxi and was forced out of his apartment last month.

“Tech workers for the bigger companies can get help from them,” he said. “But for those working for small companies or start-ups, the evictions can be disastrous.”

Migrant workers have often reacted to the eviction orders with angry resignation. But small confrontations have flared up, and the largest and most organized protest broke out on Sunday, when hundreds of people in a neighborhood in northeast Beijing scheduled for clearance gathered and chanted “violent evictions violate human rights.”

The effects of the crackdown are already evident in Beijing’s booming e-commerce sector, which relies on legions of couriers — nearly all of them migrants — to deliver packages and meals on electric bikes.

Last month, five delivery companies warned of delivery delays following the expulsions.

Gan Wei, secretary-general of the China Electronic Commerce Logistics Industry Alliance, said the companies represented by her group would have to raise delivery prices in Beijing by about 20 percent.

Read the rest:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/11/world/asia/china-beijing-migrants-tech.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fworld&action=click&contentCollection=world&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=sectionfront

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Rare Protests in Beijing Condemn Forced Evictions

December 10, 2017

Recently evicted migrant workers claim China’s capital has violated their human rights

BEIJING—Migrant workers held a rare demonstration in China’s capital on Sunday, with several hundred protesting outside a local government office that recent forced evictions across the city violated human rights.

The uncommon show of resistance by migrant workers seems to be the first protest since the Beijing government began sweeping evictions last month following a deadly fire in a slum tenement on the city’s southern outskirts. Those evictions have drawn angry critiques from middle class professionals, while many of the workers left the city quietly.

In Feijia Village, on the city’s northeastern fringe, protesters hung a large white banner reading “Violation of Human Rights” across the front gate of the village committee office, according to smartphone videos verified by people on the scene. One man repeatedly yelled “violent evictions,” and the crowd chanted back, “violate human rights.”

The protest lasted several hours in midday, with the crowds growing to several hundred people before police dispersed them, according to eyewitnesses.

Employees in the Feijia government office declined to comment and wouldn’t say if police detained protesters.

The protest came on the same day the U.S., Canada, and the European Union unusually issued near-identical statements condemning China on international human rights day. In previous years, embassies would each issue their own statement. Sunday’s statements, which didn’t mention the evictions, criticized China for continued violations of freedom of speech and religion, and prosecution of human-rights lawyers.

Feijia is one of dozens of neighborhoods across Beijing where local authorities have evicted residents on short notice in recent weeks, citing code violations. Many of those evicted in Feijia were angry because they had belongings destroyed, residents said.

It was unclear how the protest began or if it was organized to coincide with international human rights day. In past years, social activists and petitioners have organized protests in Beijing outside United Nations offices and other notable buildings to mark the day, with protesters quickly detained.

Write to Eva Dou at eva.dou@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/rare-protests-in-beijing-condemn-forced-evictions-1512915082

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The Underclass That Threatens Xi’s ‘China Dream’ — “Low End Workers” Being Swept Out of Beijing — The Marxist Contradictions That Kill Communism

December 5, 2017

Beijing’s mass evictions of migrants cast a chill over Xi’s lofty equality goals

SHANGHAI—As a Marxist thinker who sees the world in terms of titanic struggles between opposing social forces, Xi Jinping has put his finger on China’s main challenge.

It is, he told a Communist Party gathering in October, the conflict between people’s desire for a better life and “unbalanced and inadequate development.” In a commentary, Xinhua News Agency explained that if such a “principal contradiction” is left unresolved, “it can lead to chaos and eventually, as Marx predicted, to revolution.”

The first test of this new dialectic wasn’t long in coming. A fire that killed 19 migrant workers in a tenement on Beijing’s outskirts highlighted the inequalities Mr. Xi was alluding to. Rural migrants built modern Beijing and other megacities as welders and scaffolders, painters and plasterers. They now collect the trash, deliver lunchboxes to gleaming office towers, nanny the babies of affluent families and guard the mansions of the superrich.

The answer from Beijing authorities to the tragedy: flatten migrants’ dilapidated dwellings and expel the capital’s most vulnerable inhabitants.

If this is how Mr. Xi intends to resolve the contradictions that cloud China’s future, expect trouble ahead.

A popular revolt isn’t in the cards. The migrants themselves, dazed and fearful, have mostly submitted to their fate. They have few means to organize. Many simply melted back to their villages

Still, the plight of tens of thousands of refugees, dragging their wheeled suitcases through rubble in subzero temperatures, struck a chord among Beijing’s middle classes. Some donated food and blankets. Critics threw back at authorities the disdainful official appellation for the urban underclass: “low-end population.” Internet censors quickly blocked the term.

A group of lawyers, artists and public intellectuals were so scandalized they circulated a signed petition online that attacked what they called “a serious violation of human rights.”

It remains to be seen how long this sympathy will last. Beijingers in general resent migrants for swamping city services, bringing crime, clogging the streets with unlicensed motorbikes and depleting scarce water resources.

Yet wealthy urbanites have their own jumble of contradictions to resolve. After decades of frenetic economic growth they are demanding cleaner air and safer food. Many are angry at corruption that buys coveted school places and access to hospitals. The social compact in which citizens traded away political freedom for economic prosperity is fraying. Increasingly, a demanding public expects the government to listen and respond sensitively to its grievances.

Mr. Xi has recognized all these pressures, hence his drive to deliver improved living conditions even as the economy slows. So far, he’s scored highly with an anticorruption campaign, along with efforts to combat air pollution and restore blue skies.

The big question facing the Xi administration is whether these contradictions will eventually yield to his style of governance: ruthlessly authoritarian, focused on imposing top-down discipline rather than canvassing diverse views from society below. Beijing has set strict population-control targets and many residents believe authorities used the tenement fire merely as an excuse to squeeze out migrants.

Behind Mr. Xi’s confident narrative about his country’s emergence as a global superpower at the recent 19th Communist Party Congress is a more fragile reality.

China’s invincible rise is a myth. The contradictions have grown big enough to threaten the party’s rule. A deep cleavage between privileged urban dwellers and the rural poor who serve them could limit the country’s economic prospects for decades to come. Half the country pursues Mr. Xi’s “China Dream” of wealth and power; the other half—the ones still picking their way through Beijing’s blitzed slums—could derail it.

On the outskirts of Beijing, people have been packing up and leaving their homes after receiving eviction notices.Photo: Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Scott Rozelle, a professor at Stanford University, has conducted large-scale surveys on education and health care in what he calls “the other China”—rural hinterlands that are home to 500 million people and produce the migrants. Among his findings: Most kids are sick or malnourished and up to two-thirds struggle with combinations of anemia, worms and uncorrected myopia that set them back at school. More than half the toddlers are so cognitively delayed their IQs will never exceed 90.

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Because of rural backwardness, only 24% of China’s labor force has a high-school education. China ranks dead last among middle-income countries in terms of human capital, says Mr. Rozelle.

The West tracks Mr. Xi’s progress by the billions of dollars he spends on ports and high-speed railways for his Eurasian “Belt and Road” megaproject, by the fortunes he lavishes on robotics and other high-tech industries at home and the even larger sums devoted to his naval buildup.

As Mr. Xi himself suggests, these are the wrong metrics. The Marxist contradictions that challenge his rule don’t necessarily require huge spending: $20 on a pair of glasses to correct a child’s blurred vision; $1 for worm medication. But they do demand responsive governance. The evictions in Beijing during the depths of winter have cast a chill over Mr. Xi’s lofty new message.

Write to Andrew Browne at andrew.browne@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-underclass-that-threatens-xis-china-dream-1512470693

Related:

Beijing Evicting “Low End Population” — Make way for the “harmonious” and “beautiful” China

December 3, 2017

As the Chinese capital sets about evicting workers unfortunately described as the ‘low-end population’, two cornerstones of the country’s economic miracle seem to have come head to head: real estate and cheap labour

BY GABRIELE BATTAGLIA

In the end, those four characters had to go, never to be seen or mentioned again: di-duan-ren-kou, or “low-end population”. A cold bureaucratic definition of low value-added manual jobs that somehow expanded to designate the people who do those jobs, has caused as much heartburn as the harsh spectacle of Beijing’s ongoing eviction of the people who fit that description. The censors have now banned that word from social media and elsewhere.

In an angry WeChat post, the writer-filmmaker Xu Xing said: “Low-end population – who invented those four characters? I’m over 60 and I’ve never heard anything like that. When I was in Germany it was a crime to use this expression.”

Tibetans to Sri Lankans, India welcomed all. Why not Rohingya Muslims?

“Migrant workers do not read government documents, so they had no idea that this is what they were called,” says Professor Jiang, an academic who studies the new Chinese working class and prefers to be referred to only by his last name. “Now they have discovered that they are second-class citizens.”

It all began on November 18, when a fire killed 19 migrants in the village of Xinjiancun – part of the southern suburb of Daxing in Beijing. The Beijing government immediately ordered a 40-day campaign to demolish thousands of unauthorised houses in the city and evict the migrant workers occupying these rickety premises.

A Chinese security guard reads posters saying a clothes market has been closed due to Beijing’s new urban planning policy. The drive is seen by many as an attempt to force lower-income residents out of the city. Photo: EPA

The execution has been rapid and clinically efficient, wiping out whole neighbourhoods. Xinjiancun has been razed. A textile factory worker points to the rubble, saying many of her colleagues once lived right there. “Now they are theoretically still working here but they have lost their homes and disappeared,” she says. “They have to find their own housing now.”

The migrant workers falling into debt traps in Singapore’s casinos

In Picun, one of the villages in the northern belt of Beijing, officials used a softer strategy, but it hit just as hard in the biting cold. Power and heating were cut off in two buildings occupied by migrant workers. As one of the stated government goals is to reduce coal-fired homes, the authorities are entirely within their rights, no matter how ruthless it looks.

People are taking away their belongings, filing out through the dark and cold corridors. I try to engage a woman dragging away a suitcase, asking her how she feels being called “low-end”. She isn’t interested, and asks me to leave. Right now she doesn’t care what she is called – there are far more pressing matters on hand.

A flat on the outskirts of Beijing, abandoned by migrant workers driven out by Beijing’s new urban planning policy. Photo: AP

According to Jiang, what’s coming is a new wave of real estate speculation. In 2005, a resolution by the National People’s Congress identified 33 pilot counties, cities and districts that would have to “temporarily adjust and implement the Land Administration Law” while the authorities go about “getting the city into the countryside”, or turning rural land into attractive residential area. Daxing is one of those 33 pilot zones.

Whatever the official rationale for the eviction, Beijingers are perplexed at how these evictions in sub-zero temperatures could possibly be helping the cause of “harmonious” and “beautiful” China. And the drive is hurting them too. “They sent my ayi [housekeeper] so far away that now she has to travel two and a half hours to come to Beijing,” says a woman who lives near the second ring road. “What happens to the delivery boy who brings me the goods I buy on Taobao, or the guy who replaces the water tank in the office every day?”

Migrant workers leave Xinjiancun in Daxing district, Beijing, following the citywide fire safety inspection. Photo: Reuters

Suddenly two cornerstones of the Chinese economic miracle seem to have come head to head: real estate and cheap labour.

Jiang thinks that sooner or later the government will establish quotas. “Maybe a certain number of ayi and delivery boys for a certain number of city dwellers, by area or zone. And maybe, those who remain will have a Beijing hukou [household registration] and decent and affordable accommodation.”

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The others will go far, far away from Beijing.

http://www.scmp.com/week-asia/society/article/2122496/beijing-migrant-worker-evictions-four-character-word-you-cant-say