The New York Times reports on the growing debate over the policy of “sealed management,” in which villages inhabited by migrant workers in Beijing and elsewhere are fenced in and security is stepped up:
Some residents welcome the walls and gates as a way of fighting crime, but critics have seized on the ghettolike villages as a jarring sign of the barriers facing rural migrants settling in urban areas. They say the real intent of the new measures is to keep track of the migrants, and some have labeled the policy a form of apartheid.
This is not the first time Beijing has experimented with walling off migrant workers, though previous attempts have been on a much smaller scale. In the weeks leading up to the 2008 Olympics, the city similarly blocked off workers’ dorms near construction sites as part of an intensive campaign to secure and sanitize the city. The city government labels it “community-style management.”
But experts remain dubious about the long-term effects of life inside the walls on residents who are already socially marginalized migrants or local poor.
“To the migrants, the policy conveys the message that the capital is not theirs, but a capital for citizens with Beijing hukou,” said Peng Zhenhuai, director of the Local Government Research Institute at Peking University, referring to China’s household registration, or hukou, system.
The Chinese media has also covered this issue. An opinion piece on China.com in July argued that the policy of “sealed management” treats the symptom but not the underlying illness of social and economic inequality between urban and rural residents. Translated by Thomas Howell:
Author: Xu Guangmu
After instituting community management in Daxing, the same work will be undertaken in three groups of villages in Changping, involving 100 villages altogether. As a leading cadre in Changping stated, the first group of 44 villages will begin a pilot project. Among these are 15 villages in the Tiantongyuan and Huilongguan area, in which the population is 335,000, with members of the floating population comprising 275,000, close to 80% of the total. The main aim is to solve the public security problem ( Xinjing News 7-29)
In Daxing, 12 of the 16 inverted population villages in which a pilot program was launched at the end of the 4th month of this year, have had no criminal cases since the inception of the program. Since the result of “sealed villages” seems to be so striking, how can Changping, which suffers the same “damage” from inverted population, safely ignore this example?
Be that as it may, is it possible that there is not a better method than sealed villages to solve the public security problem? A certain person said, if sealed villages is what we understand as village management, where will it lead? Does the countryside, as it once existed, have to continue to bear the weight of our nostalgia? The saying “close neighbors are more dear than distant relatives” calls up the scenes of local people in their neighborhoods in the Song dynasty painting “Along the River during the Qingming Festival.” For a long time we called our country Xiangtu Zhongguo, “Home-village China,” precisely because there was a traditional model of village management, in which fellow villagers helped each other. Now, having separated from that traditional practice, to use the name “community management” for what in the end is a sealed village, leaves us with no doubt that the village we recall with great longing no longer exists. The village has become another “urban society” in which peoples’ feelings toward each other are cold and indifferent.
A half century ago, the reason why we had a society in which law and order prevailed, putting aside the fact that it was an age in which everyone lacked material goods and there was no split between rich and poor, was that there was not the large scale population shift we see today. As long as there is a population shift, there will be public security problems. But, as the last ten years have shown, without the population shift, the economy would be stagnant, and there would be no hope of vigorous development in the nation. Therefore, to try and solve the public security problem by restricting the normal flow of the population (even including the normal coming and going of people between villages) in the name of solving public security issues, really leaves one with no leg to stand on. As it will be difficult to gain popular respect for the idea, it follows that it will be difficult to carry out in practice.
Sealed villages are not really necessary. Then, how should we solve the public security problem brought about by the population shift? Broadly speaking,the shift does not come about because people are fond of leaving their native place. Rather, it is because natural resources are not evenly distributed, and the gap between rich and poor has grown great. It goes to show that people flow from undeveloped areas to developed areas, from impoverished districts to well-off districts. Therefore, to solve problems brought about by the population shift, the essential point is to reallocate natural resources and wealth in a more equitable way. To avert the widening split brought about between the wealthy and the poor, is to get at the root of the problem.
Speaking more narrowly, sealed villages is just treating the symptoms of the illness. Although the sealed village strategy may mitigate the security problems of some few villages, can we apply sealed management to the whole city of Beijing? This obviously does not correspond to reality, and future development trends run counter to it. Therefore, rather than sealed villages, we can adopt some of the methods that have been effective, such as increasing patrols and registering residents. However, the key premise to a solution is to reduce the gap between rich and poor, and induce a more equitable distribution of the population.
A lengthy report in Beijing News (新京报）describes the conditions in a soon-to-be-sealed village in Changping and in a village where the policy has already been implemented (translated by Thomas Howell):
Source: Beijing News 新京报
Carrying a pass to go in and out is a policy not directed solely at migrants
Starting 8-1, 44 inverted population villages in Changping will begin community management. The majority of residents this reporter interviewed said they were unclear about it, and needed to know more about its implementation before giving an opinion. But many tenants who had come from elsewhere were worried, as to whether it might be troublesome for them, and wondered if it would cause them to be treated with bias.
Zhongtan village is located on the Number 5 subway line near the Tiantongyuan stop, to the east of Tiantongyuan West First district, in the vicinity of the Dongxiaokou district office. The Zhongtan village Party Branch Secretary said, with sealed management they could reduce the number of illegal motorbikes, and manage the floating population more effectively.
Yesterday at 6 in the evening, at the peak of the after-work rush, the roads in the village were filled to overflowing with people, and illegal motorbikes wending their way. By the side of the road were many small vendors. It was as buzzing with excitement as a country market. Garbage thrown down by the residents was everywhere.
The Zhongtan village Party Branch Secretary said, the original villagers in Zhongtan number a little over 1000, and those who have come from elsewhere to rent and have registered as temporary residents number over 30,000. Those who have not registered are about 10,000. This makes a total of 40 times more migrants than villagers.
One villager said, around here the principal income comes from renting rooms. Inside the village area on any space possible, a building has been built with rooms let to tenants.
In regards to “the village implementing sealed community management” most villagers know nothing about it. A villager named Mrs Shi said, she supports it, because the population is such a mix of people, and who knows what kind of people they are? The rate of crime is high, mostly petty theft, almost every day she hears of one or two incidents. Illegal motorbikes barge through streets, making accidents more likely. Once the sealed management starts, they can stop lawless persons from entering, and keep illegal cars and motorbikes out of the village.
A person who came from Liaoning and rented a room in the village, Liu Mincheng, said, requiring a pass to enter and leave did not do any harm. But she was worried this would lead to being treated with bias. She felt that over time it would come to have an unpleasant taste. “Who wants to feel like they are wearing a sign [identifying them as an outsider] every moment of the day?”
Proprietor of a small clothing shop Wang Yao did not support it. “Because prices here are pretty good, on weekends people come here from other places around Tiantongyuan. Some even come to do their laundry. If the village is sealed, they won’t be able to come in.”
According to the Zhongtan village Party Branch Secretary Zhang Liang, sealing off Zhongtan will be difficult. The village is large, its population is 40,000. There are several main roads in the village that are important communication lines, dividing the village into a number of sections. They will not be able to seal off these roads. Only certain parts can be really sealed off, and checkpoints at the intersections of these important roads.
Zhang Liang said, their village is famous for its high crime rate. Sealing off the village would help reduce crime, decrease the number of illegal vehicles, and help manage the floating population. To receive the support of the villagers, the village committee is seeking the opinions of as many villagers as possible. The majority have given their support. As for the cost, the money will come from the district government and the town. The village will not need to pay out anything.
After Daxing and Changping, will other districts carry out sealed management? Reporters of this newspaper have collected information on other districts which have a large floating population.
The Shunyi District government office indicated that it was launching a pilot program of community management in the villages under its jurisdiction. The main aim is to provide public services for those villagers under the city and countryside unification project, to improve their living environment. It was really not a form of sealed management. If this pilot project gained the residents’ approval, it will be extended throughout the entire district.
A leading cadre in the Zhaoyang District government said, the district villages are currently carrying out a large scale land reserve plan [demolishing villages to make land available for development].Already the existing village structure has been smashed, and the villagers dispersed or relocated to other areas, therefore sealed management was not applicable. There is no plan to start a pilot project.
Yesterday, this reporter was in Shijingshan, and found out that this district will at present not carry out sealed management. In fact, Shijingshan has already completed the removal of peasants out of their original residences. This year, three communities of Shijingshan were classified as ” listed up villages” singled out for reform to city level” [see note below]. This reform involves more than ten natural villages. Aside from these, the natural villages remaining in the district are not many.
[Note: ”Listed up villages”: According to the Municipal Party Committee, this year the city government singled out 50 villages in which sanitation is poor and public security is in disorder, as places which will be “difficult at first but easier later.” These include Haidian district Tangjialing village, Xiajiahutong in Fengtai, Dongsanqi village in Changping. These villages will be rebuilt as part of the city and countryside unification project. Because these villages are listed up as focal points of renovation to city level, they are called “listed up villages.” Source]
Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Rural Economy Research Fellow Dang Guoying said, under the present circumstances, village community management is an unavoidable step. In large scale neighborhoods like Tiantongyuan and Huilongguan, this kind of management will improve public security. But relying on sealed management alone will not solve the problems brought about by the population shift. The government focus should be on controlling the non-conforming buildings, not restricting the movements of the floating population. If they contain the spread of illegal buildings, public security incidents will naturally become easier to check.
At the same time Dang Guoying believes that community management should not be sealed management, as an enclosing wall which shuts people up in pens, but rather it should be something that offers better management and services to the people.
In three months, 12 villages under sealed management have zero criminal cases
As this paper has reported, at the end of the 4th month Daxing district launched a pilot project of sealed management in 16 inverted population villages. Yesterday, the Daxing police reported, that in 12 of those villages there have been no criminal cases since the program was instituted. Overall, criminal cases declined 73%, and emergency calls were down 46%. A government poll finds the people’s rate of satisfaction is now 88.5%, and approval of the living environment has reached 95.5%
Sealed Management — receives praise and criticism in hot disputes
The sealed management carried out in Daxing since the 4th month has received widespread attention. After some days of hot discussion, the phrase “sealed management” was quietly changed to “village community [lit., communitification] management.”
“The villagers need to take the initiative and determine it.” A person in the Daxing district police and district government said, whether or not this new model is implemented is decided by the villagers themselves. Village community management is a new innovation. For this new model to spread, it requires each village to decide what form of management suits their own practical reality.
On the spot investigation
Dashengzhuang village already in 2006 put into place the basic elements of village sealed management. This year 4th month, the Daxing district public security bureau advocated this village’s management as a model to emulate.
The other day at nightfall, this reporter visited Dashengzhuang to take a look. At every entrance to this village there is a security person checking for passes. When this reporter approached, the security personnel simply handed over a notebook, which was for visitors to the village to write in their names, and their identity card number, along with showing their identity card. Compared to three months ago, the village was more neat and tidy. There was no trace of the piles of garbage that previously had been piled up by the side of the road.
According to a villager, criminal cases had clearly declined. They had set up 13 security cameras inside the village, everyone had to register, and there were patrols at night. “there are still small incidents of stealing, but these are by people in the village we already know well.”
A cadre at the village Comprehensive Management Center named Zhao said, we have executed sealed management to the letter. Because public security has improved, people from outside are happy to come live here, “at present, most available places are filled –there are hardly any rooms to rent.”
Laosanyu village “The pass performs no real function”
Sealed management in Laosanyu is not as strict as one might imagine. The other day at nightfall, the flow of people going in and out was quite large, more than 20 people a minute. When this reporter went in, no one inspected his papers. Pedestrians and cars were able to move freely in and out, there was no sign the village was sealed.
On both sides of the road there were small retailers and a large quantity of people coming and going. Voices were noisy, and garbage had been thrown on the ground. A Mr Ma, proprietor of a photo studio just 5 or 6 square meters in size, showed this reporter his pass, but said it had no real use. The sealing of the village was on the surface only. Before there had been inspections to see if things were carried out, but no longer. The gate used to be locked at night, but now it is sometimes locked, sometimes not.
Mr Zhang, proprietor of a cell phone store, said, “I go to sleep fairly late, and the other day in the middle of the night I heard a noise. I went to look, and a thief was forcing open the door to my shop.” Mr Zhang said, the sealing had had no effect on his business. However, he wishes the management was stricter. He did not want loiterers to be able to enter the village.
A staff member at the Village Comprehensive Management Center said the population of Laosanyu is too large, during the day the stream of people is quite huge. It is difficult to interrogate and examine them one by one. They only stop those that seem suspicious. Finally at 10 in the evening, when the amount of traffic decreases, they can check peoples’ identities one by one. The reason they are not more strict is simply that they do not have the personnel. The public security recruits are at present in the middle of training. When the training is completed, they will intensify the community management effort.
Reporters: Zhu Kaiyun, Jiang Yanxin, Liu Yang, Gan Hao, Wen Ru, Wei Mingyan, Li Liqiang, Shi Shasha. Trainee: Fu Lijia
Read more about sealed management via CDT.