The Elegy of the “Low-End Population”

by    /  January 5, 2018  / No comments

Migrant workers leave their home after being evicted. (Image via Reuters/Jason Lee)

It sounds like the eugenics policy of the Nazi-regime. When the term “low-end population” and similar wording appeared in an official Chinese document, it shocked the public. “Clear up or control the low-end population.” With these words the local government in some districts of Beijing declared its firm attitude to get ride of the shabby poor and lower-class workers or peasants, who moved from the satellite areas to the capital city, trying hard to make a living and find a better paying job.

The migrant population in China totaled almost 28 million by end of 2015. Most of them are peasants from the rural areas, who leave their home town and family behind looking for a chance to stay in the city. The household registration system in China has bound the peasants to their land, officially speaking, making it illegal to stay and work in the city. But the law and rules are rubber stamps in China- there is enough space for illegal things. The flood of rural population to cities is tolerated and welcome. The rapid construction works in the big cities, such as bridges, roads, railways, buildings, factories are created by these migrant workers, who live under extremely harsh condition, without proper insurance and medical care, receiving minimum wages to do hard and dangerous work. This cheap labor has powered China’s “great leap forward” to become a global economic super power in the last 3 decades.

On 19 November, there was a big fire in the Daxing district in Beijing, and nineteen people died. The destroyed house was a typical multi-functional building, a nest of migrant workers, who huddled and jammed together to share very narrow spaces. The rent in places like these is low, the security measures are on the lowest level. These buildings are miscellaneous worlds, where the textile production, storage, and private living are mixed together, and are not untypical for many large cities in China.

  1. Blind Chess, a column by Tienchi Martin-Liao
  2. During the Cultural Revolution, people were sentenced to death or outright murdered because of one wrong sentence. In China today writers do not lose their lives over their poems or articles; however, they are jailed for years. My friend Liu Xiaobo for example will stay in prison til 2020; even winning the Nobel Peace Prize could not help him. In prison those lucky enough not to be sentenced to hard labor play “blind chess” to kill time AND TO TRAIN THE BRAIN NOT TO RUST. Freedom of expression is still a luxury in China. The firewall is everywhere, yet words can fly above it and so can our thoughts. My column, like the blind chess played by prisoners, is an exercise to keep our brains from rusting and the situation in China from indifference.
  3. Tienchi Martin-Liao
  4. Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners, and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.

Two days after the catastrophe, Beijing mayor Cai Qi took the chance to clear up some of the troublesome spots in the urban area. He forced the “low end” people to leave the city within the short time of 48 or 72 hours. Should they fail, the water and power would be cut off. In the freezing temperature, tens of thousands of migrants from other provinces lost their dwelling. They hurried back to their original hometowns, where some have no option other than to live on the streets. Pictures of their miserable existence has been circulating on the internet. Sympathy and solidarity has formed a public discussion about the unfair treatment to them.

At the same time, Beijing’s mayor, Cai Qi, has made two more unpopular decisions: he gave order to tear down a large part of the commercial advertisement board and signs on the street, and he forbade the people to use coal for heating purposes, so that the smog problem could be relieved a bit. The Beijing citizens are annoyed by these orders, because no alternative has been offered to them. Critiques and protests follow one another, even the official media such as People’s Daily, Global Times, and China Youth Daily criticize the “unscientific” and rude method of mayor Cai Qi.

Cai Qi is the former colleague of Xi Jinping, they worked together in Fujian and Zhejiang. When Xi became the president of China, he promoted Cai by lifting him to the position as politburo member. In return, Cai shows his obsequious way to kiss boss Xi’s ass, using “iron and blood” tactics. He wants to present a clean, beautiful, and modern capital city to patron Xi Jinping, so that the latter can show off in front of influential international guests during the global meeting in December. The poor and lower class workers or peasants with their miserable appearance damage the glorious sparkling image of the capital city. They have always been a thorn in the mayor’s flesh. In the last few weeks, there was a short internal video exposed to the public, where Cai showed his merciless position: he told the officers: “When you are on the base, you have to show your true weapon, your dagger must see blood… you must solve the problem. ”

To “solve the problem” means to drive the poor population out of their houses and destroy their private belongings. The police use violence to reach their goal of driving them away from the city. No legal arguments, no mercy. This action has stirred a wave of protest. Many citizens have posted their concern and rage, that the poor should not be treated like deserted animals. After all, they have made great contributions to bring the society to prosperity and wealth.
An open letter is circulating, signed by alumnus of Tsinghua and Renmin Universities‭. ‬It‭ ‬calls‭ ‬Cai’s administrative measure‭ ‬the‭ ‬worst ever‭ ‬in Beijing’s history. “To order the armed policemen and security forces to demolish the dwellings of the inhabitants in winter‭ ‬day and night‭, and to ‬cut off the water‭, ‬electricity, and heating in their houses‭,‬”‭ ‬these cruel and illegal government actions‭ ‬are‭ ‬intolerable‭. ‬The signers‭ ‬ask‭ ‬Cai‭ ‬to resign from his position‭. ‬A professor Wang Yukai of the National Administration College‭ ‬suggested that the central government go‭ ‬after the responsibility of mayor Cai of his wrong policy‭.‬

The strong reaction of the common people and the intellectual circle against the rude and inhuman policy of the government sends a clear signal to the ruling class- that the pure violation of human rights and injustice will not be simply accepted by the public.

Xi Jinping has strengthened his position after the 19th Party Congress as the absolute paramount leader in his country. He is so confident with himself and his Communist Party, that he even organized a global political conference-CPC- in Dialogue with World Political Parties High-level Meeting, inviting over 200 political parties from 120 countries to Beijing from November 11 to December 3 to have dialogues with them. Xi wants to show the world politicians the “socialist system with Chinese character.” Whatever it contains, salesman Xi needs the international community to acknowledge his contribution and his ambitious geopolitical strategy. How ironic it is, that the dictatorial party of China wants to lead the world trend, to show the roadmap of a prosperous and peaceful world order. It’s a very mean joke with bad taste, yet it won international followers. Xi’s little brother, Cai Qi, has made some mistakes with his rogue method in Beijing, but that won’t shake Xi’s saddle. His protecting hand will help Cai come over the crisis. The “low-end population” are the losers in all of this. Soon the voices which have criticized the treatment of the migrant workers will die down.

About the Author

Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.

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