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Beijing Razes Migrant Neighborhoods, Evicting Tens of Thousands

In essays and petitions, critics of the campaign accuse Beijing of seizing on the fire as an excuse to accelerate expulsions that have until now failed to slow the city’s growth.

“The bodies of the dead were not cold, and yet some people in this fine capital cracked the whip to expel the ‘low-end population,’” said one of the petitions.

City officials denied calling the rural laborers a “low-end” group, and suggested critics were trying to stir up social divisions.

But the city government has also spent years trying to reduce Beijing’s population of low-income migrants, using demolitions and sweeping inspections of residency documents to force them out. They have warned that Beijing was overstrained by a population explosion that has sent its population soaring from 10.9 million in 1990 to almost 22 million in 2016.

Of last year’s figure, 8.1 million were migrants from other parts of China — mostly menial laborers but also white-collar workers, some of whom have also been displaced by the recent removals.

The campaign intensified in 2014, when President Xi demanded that Beijing deal with its bloated population. The city snapped into action, moving factories, schools and markets out of the city to force low-paid migrants to leave.

Beijing has set a goal of limiting its population to 23 million residents by 2020, while also making room to attract more higher-paid, university-educated professionals.

Despite such efforts, officials have so far failed to deter migrants from settling in the city, largely because Beijing still relies on them to be its cooks, couriers and cleaners.

“They want the horse to run, but they don’t want to feed it grain,” said Zhang Yonghui, a worker in his thirties from Shaanxi who moved to Beijing a few months ago after failing to find work in coal mines. “They’ll get rid of us for a while, maybe for a year, but then quietly they’ll let us back because they need our labor.”

Source: NYT > World

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