by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Seader/WikiCommons/CC
PLANNED POPULATION controls by the Chinese government in its key cities are indicative of the priorities of the CCP when it comes to China’s future development. Namely, both Shanghai and Beijing put population caps into place last year, with Shanghai setting in place a limit of 25 million and Beijing setting in place a population cap of 23 million.
It remains to be seen whether population caps will follow for China’s two other Tier 1 cities, Tianjin and Chongqing. It is feared, however, that as time goes by, government measures to strictly cut down numbers to population caps will become increasingly severe. Beijing has, for example, in recent times seen the eviction of thousands of migrant workers using the pretext of a fire which killed 19. What has provoked outrage from many has been government policies referring to migrants as “low-end workers” who are undesirable for residence and therefore must be evicted.
Beijing has also in the past year seen many iconic neighborhoods torn up wholesale for redevelopment. This is not only to enforce population caps, but because these neighborhoods do not conform to the image that China wishes the city to present to the international world. The urban landscape in China is changing, it seems.
But at the same time as evicting Chinese “low-end” migrant workers, many of which who are poor and migrated from the countryside, China would aim to attract another sort of migrant—those deemed to be “high-end workers.” China has taken, for example, to trying to attract foreign skilled workers to Beijing and Shanghai, offering ten year visas and “green cards” which allow foreigners to buy cars, own property, and even enroll in housing.
China particularly hopes to attract foreign skilled workers for its tech and AI industries. And, indeed, the benefits it offers them are much greater than those it offers its domestic migrant workers. For example, even as the hukou system dividing rural residents from urban residents has decreased in importance in past years, it continues to be of importance for children registering for education, but the benefits that the Chinese government is offering to foreign workers allows them to access to local Chinese schools.
Overall, China’s eviction of migrant workers seems on some level directed at addressing China’s large, dispersed flow of migrant workers, redirecting them towards less developed areas, perhaps in lower tier cities. The Chinese government also needs to address the continued lack of development of efficient use of land for agriculture in China, seeing the rural-urban divide remains unbalanced. However, this is done with little consideration of the human costs of such evictions, as well as that many migrant workers are young people. Migrant workers seem to be treated as refuse by the CCP, or as mere consumables for the wealthy.
Indeed, the values of the CCP are clear in evicting members of the most disenfranchised group in society, of which China’s contemporary successes are built on the hard work and labor of, and that this is done in favor of keeping the large cities of China for its already prosperous middle class. This would be the vicious circle of capitalist consumption that China has wholeheartedly embraced, even if the CCP remains ascendant over the free market. The CCP is now the force which precisely engenders social inequalities in China.
“To get rich is glorious,” in the words of Deng, after all. Or, as the phrase might be more accurately rendered, “It is good to allow some people to get rich first.” The CCP might continue to claim that it hopes to combat poverty in China by providing for the wealth of limited group of individuals, but this would be an ironic example of justifying trickle-down economics—not unlike, say, argued for by conservatives in America.
On the other hand, social contradictions continue to result in China from outrage regarding forced land evictions in China or land seizures. Sometimes the government admits to that land seizures are carried out violating the law, claiming that this is the result of oversight or shortcomings in enforcement. In other cases, as with Beijing, the government insists that evictions are wholly in the spirit of the law. However, it remains another question entirely as to whether anger over government actions will translate into civil unrest.