Residents of Beijing have noticed their city growing smaller, rather than larger, as the Olympics approach. This strange shrinkage is a result of the pre-Olympics eviction of migrant workers and other “undesirables,” a months-long clean-up effort officially known as the Peaceful Olympics Special Correction Operation. The precise mechanism of the eviction process has long remained hazy, but a recently posted essay in the Chinese blogosphere reveals a number of the details.
Originally published on the Chu Wangtai Legal Commentary blog in June (and since removed from there), the essay starts with a report in the magazine Phoenix Weekly announcing that Beijing planned to evict some 300,000 people living in underground apartments, partially translated by CDT.
Like many cities in northern China, Beijing has extensive underground structures originally built in the 1970s as bomb shelters in case of war with the Soviet Union. Many of these structures were converted into cheap hotels and makeshift apartments occupied by low-income residents. As noted in the essay, people living underground in Beijing include migrant construction workers, restaurant workers, domestic helpers, sanitation workers, supermarket employees and small-time shop owners.
The essay describes the case of one subterranean resident, a restaurant worker named Ms. Wang, who makes 1000 RMB ($130) a month and spends 40% of that on her rent.
Beijing has been trying to clear out these people on anti-terrorism grounds since April, the essay says. In early June, the author visited one underground hotel in the city’s wealthy Chaoyang District to find it cleared of people with tape reading “Chaoyang Office of Civil Defense” pasted across the door.
According to insiders, because such a large-scale closure and dispersal affects a huge swathe of the population, the government’s policy on this particular control effort is “all action, no talk.” In some places, local government departments don’t have the right to close businesses and instead require an appropriate law or special authorization from the People’s Congress. But since security is the top priority during the Olympics, the losses suffered by closed businesses and evicted tenants can’t be addressed until after the Olympics are over.
In mid-June, work will stop on most construction projects in Beijing. When that time comes, an estimated one million migrant workers will be encouraged to go home. Besides this, all restaurants, karaoke parlors, teahouses and bathhouses under 1000 square-meters in size will be closed down. With this, even more migrant workers will be leaving the capital and returning to their villages.
“The Olympics is a once-in-a-century event. Individuals who suffer loses as result just have to deal with it. Right now, the interests of the State is most important.” These are the words that agents of the Peaceful Olympics Special Correction Operation use to encourage “troublemakers” to leave the city. But when tenants ask “Where I am going to make a living these next five months?” they have no answer. In the end, all they can do is quote from the eviction notice: “We hope you can fully understand the importance, necessity and seriousness of maintaining safety during the Olympics from a political and general standpoint, and therefore proactively comply with the Special Correction Operation.”
According to the essay, all of Beijing’s underground hotels and apartments should have been cleared out by July 1st. Originally, the evictions were supposed to neutralize three groups: terrorist organizations, anti-China forces and people “dissatisfied with society.” As the author suggests, whether or not it takes care of terrorists, the Special Correction Operation is almost certain to cause the latter category to grow by the tens of thousands.