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Beijing Evicts ‘Low-end Population’

On 18 November, a fire broke out in the basement of an apartment block inhabited mostly by migrant workers in Beijing’s Daxing district, killing nineteen and injuring eight. Around four hundred people lived in cramped conditions in the two-story structure. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the city authorities launched a fortyday campaign to inspect and demolish buildings that unlawfully mixed residential and industrial facilities, as well as overcrowded apartments. This led to a wave of evictions that mostly affected the migrant population of the Chinese capital, with thousands of migrants forced out of their residences and left homeless in spite of the cold temperatures. As part of the campaign, officials also shut down small plants, shops, and restaurants, in some cases going as far as to cut electricity and water without any notice. While state censors were quick to take control of the media narrative, for a few days Chinese social media was abuzz with discussions and denunciations of how the crackdown was targeting Beijing’s ‘low-end population’ (diduan renkou), a term that first appeared in official debates a few years ago referring to those who work in low-end service and manufacturing jobs, and that more recently has come back in vogue in relation to plans to cap the capital’s population at twenty-three million by 2020. From the beginning of the campaign, the crackdown drew widespread condemnation from the Chinese public. Some migrant communities took to the streets in an attempt to resist, and more than one hundred intellectuals signed an open letter demanding an end to the evictions. Even some state media were unusually critical. On 27 November, Beijing Communist Party Chief Cai Qi declared that the campaign should not have been carried out in a simplistic and hasty manner, and that those evicted should have been given time to move out. IF

(Sources: BBC; Caixin Global; China Digital Times; China Media Project; People’s Daily; Quartz; Reuters; South China Morning Post 1; South China Morning Post 2)

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