The banner reads: “It is everyone's responsibility to clear out the low-end population. People like tiding up the environment.” Viral photo on social media.
A week after the deadly fire that killed 19 broke out in Daxing district, on the southern outskirts of Beijing, the city government launched a campaign against illicit buildings and cleared out thousands of migrant workers: the so-called “low-end population.”
The forced eviction of these people started a few years back. In 2014 in central Beijing, the Haidian district government shut down seven grassroots markets, forcing migrants to leave so that authorities could appropriate the space for “upper-end” commercial purposes.
Rural migrants who had been laboring in small workshops inside the city were forced to settle around the outskirts of the capital. Then came the fire.
And in recent days, just as these rural migrant workers were forced out of their dwellings into the streets, Beijing’s temperature fell to below 0 degrees Celsius at night.
Chinese netizens could not repress their anger and slammed the government on social media.
Ding Shenning, a high-profile personality on social media platform Weibo, criticized:
Really, I am not against the tearing down of the Dahongmen [clothing wholesale market] and I support the government’s policy up cleaning up illicit buildings for fire prevention purposes. But can law enforcement be more humane? If a landlord has to end a rental contract, he has to give a month's notice. Why can’t you give them a grace period so that they can sell their furniture, find a place to settle or plan for travelling back home? I don’t understand why it has to be done in such a hurry. And I don’t understand why the so-called low-end population has to be kicked out of the city. China does not have the kind of ghettos like those in Mumbai. These people, they just want to work in Beijing earning 3,000 per month and paying 300 for a place to sleep. They probably have old grannies, sick mothers or school-age brothers and sisters to take care of back home…I would say our development path is better than the capitalist country but this time the local government in Beijing has exemplified bad policy. …you don’t see people in the policy.
In response to widespread criticism, the Beijing Chinese Communist Party committee stressed that local government does not have a policy of evicting the “low-end population,” calling it a rumor and emphasizing that the action was taken to prevent fires.
However, many netizens discovered the term in a number of government documents concerning city planning. Here is one source from Twitter:
On Weibo, users also shared the government’s policy paper on “low end population” and blogger Ah Bao pointed out that the term violates a core socialist value:
The so called “low end population” is referred to migrant workers. They come to this city, working very hard with little return to serve this city. They are the bricks of the city and all they want is to improve their family’s living condition.
Putting aside the controversy over naming of migrant workers, more than a hundred mainland Chinese intellectuals co-signed a letter demanding Beijing authorities to stop the forced evacuation: