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Demolitions limit slum villages to city outskirts

Josephine Ma
July 22,2008

Some residents of makeshift housing in Beijing tried to save their dwellings by sticking posters of party leaders on them, but the authorities have cleared most of the slums from the more prominent areas of the capital.   Photo: AFP

In the last of our series on the steps being taken ahead of the Games,  Josephine Ma looks at how the authorities cleared out the capital's slum villages and where the people went

A few years ago, as part of China's preparation for the Olympics, Beijing launched an unrelenting demolition campaign that targeted the pockets of slums nestled among the spiralling skyscrapers and gleaming residential complexes.

In the eyes of the authorities and well-off, these "villages in the city" are hotbeds of crime and a disgrace to a modern capital about to host the world's most prestigious sporting event.

However, for hundreds of thousands of rural migrant workers eking out a living on anything between 800 yuan (HK$916) and 2,000 yuan a month, these slums and basement homes are all they can afford.

Even then, the rent takes up a big part of their earnings - between 300 to 500 yuan a month.

In 2005, the authorities launched a "reform plan" for the slums, and commissioned the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences to identify the  villages.

In all, 171 "villages" were singled out for demolition ahead of the Games.

All the slums near the venues have been removed, and residents who refused to go saw their houses taken down anyway without compensation paid.

The Olympics also gave authorities a pretext to remove other "undesirable communities", such as the petitioners who for years congregated near the Beijing southern railway station. Their slum village was razed to make way for the new station.

A large number of police vehicles from all over the mainland are still parked along the roads near the area - a sign of authorities' determination to prevent the petitioners from  returning.

Some petitioners have sought out the cheap accommodation that remains across Beijing, much of it outside the Fifth Ring Road, while others have been arrested and sent back to their home provinces.

Some were detained in the infamous "black prisons" operated by the Beijing representative offices of individual provincial governments, according to veteran petitioners.

While many slums still remain along the outskirts of Beijing outside the Fifth Ring Road, most of those within the Third Ring Road have  disappeared.

Some shabby cabins and brick houses within the Third Ring Road have survived, but they are hidden behind the newly painted buildings along the main roads.

In Shilihe, which was once a vibrant community for migrant workers, old brick houses were demolished, although one row of restaurants and shops managed to escape the wrecking ball.

A restaurant operator said they were asked to shut down during the Olympics as they had no business licences; in the past few years, they have been forced to bribe local police.

"We have spent quite a bit of money on the police and the street committees in the past years. But this time it is no use, and we have to shut down," said the operator, who refused to be named.

Still, the authorities cannot afford to remove every unsightly building downtown, so the next best step was to beautify those along the main streets.

Next to the southern entrance of the Temple of Heaven, three long rows of cabins have survived behind a row of tall buildings that were repainted, along with fake attic windows constructed on their roofs.

Liu Meiling, a 42-year-old hospital cleaner from Fuyang city , Anhui , said she was happy to find cheap accommodation next to the Tiantan hospital where she works.

She paid 200 yuan for a cabin in Tiantan Nanli, where the ceiling of her home is made of pages torn out of magazines and newspaper.

"It did not leak when it rained a few days ago, it is quite alright."

Ms Liu, who has worked in Beijing for almost two years, said she was indifferent about the Olympics. The only difference she can sense is the new uniform given to her by the hospital. "We may have patients from overseas during the Olympics, that is why we are given new uniform."

To read more about Beijing's preparation for the Olympics, access the previous stories in our series here.

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