Thursday, December 7, 2017

Tom Phillips - The gentrification of Beijing: razing of migrant villages spells end of China dream

“The Chinese [authorities] have a way of being brutal that is often related to a very substantive project,” says Saskia Sassen, a Columbia University sociologist whose latest book, Expulsions, examines the driving forces behind such evictions. “Yes, [driving out the poor] is definitely always in there – but is there also something else?”.. City officials deny they are seeking to banish Beijing’s estimated 8 million migrant workers and claim their focus is saving lives by clamping down on illegal, unsafe and overcrowded buildings. Last week Beijing’s Communist party chief announced 
that ensuring safety and stability was now his “biggest political task”. But the scenes of migrants being driven from their drab rented homes – captured in heart-wrenching smartphone videos – have sparked public outrage just weeks after Xi began his second term promising citizens a “new era” of power and prosperity. . “It is a humanitarian crisis,” says Zhang Lifan, an outspoken political commentator involved in a petition condemning the government’s treatment of people he calls refugees. 

Inside the shell of one of dozens of derelict buildings in this condemned migrant community, a cinnabar-coloured calendar was nailed to the wall, adorned with the face of Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his inescapable political slogan: “CHINA DREAM”. Outside, as night fell and roadside puddles hardened into black ice, rural migrants who had come to China’s capital chasing pavements of gold set about dismantling their own. In the village of Sanyingmen, a family of restaurateurs from Anhui, one of east China’s poorest regions, load the fruits of their labour onto the back of a van: a mattress, a wardrobe, a grease-stained cooking pot. A man from Jiangxi province scavenges internet cables from a heap of demolished shacks, having been given 24-hours to vacate his home.

Such scenes are playing out across Beijing after authorities launched a 40-day housing crackdown following a deadly tenement fire on the city’s southern outskirts which killed 19 people, eight of them children. Activists believe authorities are using that blaze as a pretext to accelerate ongoing efforts to drive tens of thousands of “low-end” migrant workers out of the city.

Beside a sea of bricks that had been the heart of a once-bustling settlement, a man takes aim at his president’s pledge to rule as a champion of the poor. “I think what is happening is that ... Xi Jinping has water in his head,” he fumes, a teary eye giving way to anger as he recounts how officials gave Sanyingmen’s residents until 7am the next day to leave. “I’ve no idea what the China dream really means,” the 40-year-old says. “My nights are sleepless. How can I possibly dream?”.. read more: