Beijing Manages its Population, Above Ground and Below
Beijing authorities have announced a variety of measures for managing the city’s expanding population, in accordance with the 12th Five-Year Plan. In addition to limiting the influx of migrants which has driven the population toward 20 million, these include a clear-out of the legendary tunnels and shelters beneath the city, said to currently house almost 1 million people. From Global Times:
Those policies include: limiting college student numbers; establishing a population committee to assess district governments’ performances on population restriction; only allowing those professionals whose skills the city requires to get hukou; and issuing residential electronic ID cards for the stably employed floating population, possession of which will be compulsory in order to rent a house, receive social security or send children to school. The proposed policies will be submitted to the State Council and the municipal government for approval before they come into effect.
“Every year for the past three years, about 500,000 people poured into the capital,” said Zhai Zhengwu, head of the School of Sociology and Population Studies at Renmin University of China. “The population now is far beyond the reasonable limit, thus making it necessary for the authorities to do something,” Zhai told the Global Times Monday ….
Complaints about crowds and a shortage of resources, such as education opportunities and medical treatment, are endemic, but Ma Li, director of the China Population and Development Research Center, did not see a policy-based approach as offering much potential benefit.
“People settle down because of work,” Ma told the Global Times, “and the government cannot just ask some people to leave using executive policies.”
The Economic Observer focuses on the subterranean population now being displaced:
After the underground space is cleared, it will be used for community activity centers, and car and bicycle parking. According to a department involved in the project, the Beijing Municipal Commission of Housing and Urban-rural Development and the Beijing Civil Defense will establish an office for this issue around the time of the Spring Festival.
Fengtai District will invest 240 million yuan into cleaning out the shelters. The money will be mainly used for renovating the area, and making arrangements for and providing compensation to people who currently live in the makeshift apartments.
Chaoyang District has already begun clearing out their underground space. Departments involved in the efforts said that groups of people currently living in the underground apartments that do not meet security and fire regulations would be removed. The apartments that comply with the regulations would be subject to supervision and required to register visitors and be subject to other management rules ….
Xiaowang is one of [those who live under the city], and he is not confident about his resettlement options. When we confirmed to him that 77 yuan a month policy-based housing for low-income Beijing residents does indeed exist, he stated, “When will this type of housing be available to us outsiders? Affordable housing is really outside our reach.”
The undercity was excavated in the aftermath of the Sino-Soviet Split as a precaution against land, air and missile attack from the USSR:
The tunnels, built from 1969 to 1979 by more than 300,000 local citizens and even school children, wind for over 30 kilometers and cover an area of 85 square kilometers eight to eighteen meters under the surface. It includes around a thousand anti-air raid structures.
To supply construction materials for the complex, centuries-old city walls and towers that once circled ancient Beijing were destroyed. The old city gates of Xizhimen, Fuchengmen, Chongwenmen and others remain in name only – only two embrasured watchtowers from Zhengyangmen and Deshengmen survived ….
There is no authoritative information on how far the mostly hand-dug tunnels stretch, but they supposedly link all areas of central Beijing, from Xidan and Xuanwumen to Qianmen and Chongwen districts, to as far as the Western Hills.
They were equipped with facilities such as stores, restaurants, clinics, schools, theaters, reading rooms, factories, a roller skating rink, a grain and oil warehouse as well as barber shops and a mushroom cultivation farm, for growing foods that require little light.
In addition to fire and other safety hazards for their occupants, the tunnels pose a danger to some residents above ground due to subsidence. From Global Times:
An underground shelter built to withstand an invasion of the imperialist Soviet Union has become a threat itself to one Beijing hutong resident, who fears his house will fall down when the decaying refuge below it someday collapses.
The shelter, which was built during the Sino-Soviet split, is 6 meters long, 1 meter wide and 3 meters tall, and sits beneath the No.10 courtyard of Dongbi Jie, Dongcheng district, according to the Beijing News. A man surnamed Yang lives in a house in that courtyard and above the shelter, the entrance of which has been sealed by his neighbor.
The passageway has slightly sunk in recent months, and Yang can’t sleep at night from fear the shelter beneath will eventually collapse, taking his house with it, the Beijing News reported.
Beijing is not alone: New York and Las Vegas are both reported to have their own subterranean populations, described in books like The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City, Tunnel People and Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas. The tunnels beneath Paris are said to be occupied by secret societies of cinephiles and covert clock restorers, while Britain’s nuclear shelters and abandoned Tube stations are obsessively catalogued by enthusiasts.