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

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Dec 12 07:15:48 MST 2017


NY Times, Dec. 12 2017
Campaign to Drive Out Migrants Slams Beijing’s Best and Brightest
By CHRIS BUCKLEY, SUI-LEE WEE and ADAM WU

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.

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.

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.

“Why is takeout food so cheap in Beijing? Because of all the cheap labor
from the countryside,” said Jia Dayong, 43, a stringy courier from the
northwestern province of Shaanxi who was being expelled from Banjieta
Village, a migrant neighborhood in northern Beijing.

“Nobody cares whether we have a place to live,” he said.

Beijing launched the eviction drive in late November, citing worries about
cramped, substandard housing after an apartment fire killed 19 people, all
but two of them migrants.

The government says a population of 21.7 million residents, 8.1 million of
them classed as migrants, has put too much strain on city. Urged on by
China’s president, Xi Jinping, Beijing wants to cap its population at 23
million by 2020, and clear out gritty neighborhoods that do not fit its
aspirations to become a spick-and-span capital of monuments, malls and
broad motorways.

The word “demolish” was spray-painted in blue on the window of a small
restaurant in the Yuxin Village district of Beijing’s northern suburbs.
Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times
“If they keep clearing out like this, Beijing will suffer a drought of
employees next year,” said Wang Le, 29, a hotel manager from the eastern
province of Jiangsu.

She was one of about 100 tenants — most of whom worked in finance,
technology and hospitality — living in steel shipping containers that had
been converted into small, brightly painted apartments. They were being
torn down on government orders.

In an attempt to slow the influx of job seekers, Beijing has cut the
numbers of university graduates from other parts of China receiving the
hukou permits that confer privileged status and benefits. But they have
kept coming.

Without permanent residency, they are forced to live precariously. Trying
to save money, many find cheap apartments in the same run-down
neighborhoods as migrants working menial jobs.

“Even if the industry I’m in is very high-level, as far as the government
is concerned, I’m also a peasant worker, a migrant worker,” said Zhang
Xingwang, 24, who studied automation in college and came to Beijing from
Hebei Province seeking work as a software programmer.

He had to find new housing after his old apartment near where the deadly
fire broke out last month was demolished. “I thought Beijing would be
relatively fair and tolerant, and the government would behave better,” he
said. “But after this happened 
”

China’s big tech firms have refrained from criticizing the migrant
crackdown, perhaps out of fear of angering the government. Alibaba, the
online commerce giant, said the overall impact on its business “hasn’t
been significant.”

But some experts have warned that by choking off the flow of migrants,
Beijing risks losing entrepreneurial energy.

Couriers working in southeastern Beijing. The government’s mass evictions
have hurt the city’s delivery services, causing staffing shortfalls and
delays. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times
Even before the recent expulsions, Yin Deting, a demographer who advises
the Beijing city government, warned that heavy-handed clearances of
migrants would accelerate the aging of the city’s work force.

“If we place our hopes for reducing the population just in demolishing
illegal buildings and low-grade markets, the actual outcomes may well be
contrary to what is hoped for,” Mr. Yin wrote earlier this year.

Mr. Si, the programmer who studied in New Zealand, eventually found a
place to stay on the eastern edge of Beijing where he could keep his cats.
He said he was weighing whether to move to a more tolerant Chinese city,
or leave the country again to resume his studies.

“I don’t think this will ever work,” Mr. Si said of the crackdown. “There
are job opportunities in Beijing, and government policies can’t stop
people moving to get jobs. If you do, the city pays a heavy price.”




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