Eviction of “Low-end Population”: the Great Leap Forward of Xi Jin-ping’s “New Era”
In the previous winter, Cai Qi, the new secretary of Beijing municipal communist party, forcefully launched three controversial policies in order to build an unprecedented “New Beijing”. These policies not only exposed the rashness of administration of the Xi Jin-ping regime, but also revealed the discrimination of municipal management against grassroots workers in China’s “new era”.
Grassroots suffered the most under the policies of “switching from coal to gas”, “eviction of low-end population” and “signboards demolition”
In line with the national policies of economic transformation and industry upgrading, Beijing, is at the frontline of promoting city reform and demographic restructure to attract more middle-class and professionals. First of all, the northern China districts launched the “switching from coal to gas” policy to cut down the proportion of coal-based heating in order to improve air condition in Beijing. Since autumn in 2017, government officials have ordered the closure of coal-based heater and boiler in schools, enterprises and households, and switch to natural gas heating. At the same time, the authority demolished and removed coal furnaces to stop coal burning. However, winter came early in 2017. As gas-heating facilities wet yet to be completed and natural gas supply could not catch up with the increased demands, residents were forced to go out for sunshine or set up fire indoor for heating in the harsh winter, which caused considerable risks to the city.
On 18 November, a huge fire in Da Xing District in Beijing took 19 lives. An official investigation concluded that the fire was caused by wire short-circuit, but the cause of short-circuit was not disclosed. There were suggestions that the fire was caused by short-circuit of worn-out wire when residents were using electric heaters as the natural gas pipelines were yet to be completed under the policy of “switching from coal to gas”. Regardless the cause of the fire, the following large-scale demolition of residential areas and “eviction of low-end population” have caused an even bigger humanitarian crisis. Da Xing, the district where the fire broke out, is at the outskirt of Beijing and attracted huge groups of low-income migrant workers due to its comparatively lower rent. In order to implement demographic restructuring, the Beijing Municipal Government used the big fire as an excuse for launching reform projects in the district. Water and electricity were disconnected, doors and windows were demolished, and residential houses were pulled down to evict migrant population, which resulted in thousands of displaced people staying on the streets amid harsh winter conditions. After the operation, the authority even stopped local NGOs from providing assistance to the affected people. Teachers and students received warnings from universities and were blacklisted after they expressed support and provided assistance to the affected people.
Forced demolishment has become a usual practice of the Beijing Municipal Government. Following the “eviction of low-end population”, the government launched another operation in “signboards demolition” in November for the sake of an alleged clearer and brighter city skyline. During the operations, thousands of signboards in the city were demolished within 10 days, including historical signboards of hundred-year-old shops and public services. Even authorised signboards did not manage to escape. This sudden policy affected the small businesses the most, as their investment in making and installing signboards vanished overnight.
Practical solutions on “wealth disparity” should prevail over rashness to eliminate “low-end population”
The newly appointed secretary of Beijing municipal communist party, Cai Qi, has worked under Xi Jin-ping in the 1990s and was considered a member of the New Zhijiang Army. His rationale of governance more or less reflected the ruling will of Xi Jin-ping. In order to make rash advance in political goals, Cai Qi used coercive and hardline approaches to gain instant results, which blatantly disregarded the endurance of the people. The use of campaign approach to implement government orders was similar to the rashness of the Great Leap Forward. Without democratic consultation nor monitoring, peoples’ rights are often sacrificed for the sake of government orders. These policies also reflect the governing rationale of many Chinese first-tier cities under the “new era”, which is to replace “low-end” and labour-intensive workforce with “high-end” and intellectual workforce. However, without recognizing the importance of “low-end” service industries to the city’s economy, the recklessness in pushing through reforms and restructuring exposed the Beijing Municipal Government’s deficiencies in policy-making.
The above three policies of the Beijing Municipal Government were awfully discriminative against grassroot workers, as they are the ones who suffered the most under the policies. Despite low-income workers have shouldered many basic municipal services such as catering, retail, logistics and cleaning, and is an indispensable part of the city’s economic structure, the local government did not hesitate to drive them out of doors with public resources. This is just burying one’s head in the sand, which might intensify conflicts between classes. In the long run, the governments of first-tier cities in China should adopt comprehensive population policy and recognize the contribution of grassroots workers and improve their living conditions gradually. For example, the government should, on the one hand, step up its efforts to stamp out worker rights violation in grassroots service industries, such as eliminating fraud self-employment, improving occupational safety, raising wage standards, etc. to reduce exploitation on workers. On the other hand, the government should proactively develop green industries and promote policies on renewable energy, green landscape and recycling, in order to improve eco-environment and create grassroot green jobs at the same time. Local governments should also pay efforts to resolve housing problems caused by high real estate cost and provide well-equipped and affordable public housing in the long run. Social problems related to wealth disparity induced by economic transform can only be addressed at the root through improving working conditions and basic infrastructures.