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Beijing: Unification of Urban and Rural 4. Sealed Villages as a first step in remaking Beijing’s urban/rural periphery

June 4, 2012

The Truth Behind Beijing’s Sealing the Village Management

Reporter Zhang Yanling 张艳玲

The 954 commuter bus kicks up a cloud of dust at the Shoubaozhuang village stop, disgorging a crowd of dusty haired temporary workers. Dragging their exhausted bodies, at nightfall they return to their small rented rooms, rented for two or three hundred yuan a month. At night they rest and revive, then the next day head out again to the bustle of the center of the city

However, in the wake of Beijing’s “Sealing the Village Management,” the ability of these workers to go out early and return late is curtailed. Shoubaozhuang and Laosanyu are two of the villages in which the trial program was launched.  An iron gate was put up, a long automatic pole at the crossing, a police sentry box installed. Though wearing the uniform of a patrolman, the person in the box is still a village cadre, calling out greetings to locals as they go in and out.

As the Laosanyu village party branch secretary Wang Changxiang explained,  the essence of sealed management is “community transformation management.” At present non-native persons and vehicles must show permits to pass. Soon village residents will also have to get passes.

On 4-25, the Daxing district Public Security branch office held the “Spreading the Village Sealing Management Model Conference”  in Laosanyu. Assistant Director Zuo Baoshuan said, starting from the initiative taken by the Jinxing police sub-station in March of this year beginning this as a trial program,  the 92 villages in Daxing with an “inverted population” [migrants outnumber residents] will by the end of the year adapt this model.

However, public opinion in reaction to this was more negative than  the government had expected. On 4-29 the Daxing district government held a press conference in response, stating that his measure was “community transformation management.” The villagers had themselves selected this model, and had chosen the details of how the sealing off would occur.

Laosanyu village is in Daxing district Xihongmen town. After the 5th Ring Road opened,  easy access by public transportation and low prices for rent and other necessities drew many migrant workers. Those who had recently arrived in the capital from the countywide stayed in cheap places like this, passing their days selling vegetables and doing odd jobs.

The periphery of Beijing functions as a link to the countryside. Laosanyu has an “inverted population.” There are more than 6000 recent migrants, compared to 660 residents. Six or seven years ago, the residents made their living growing vegetables in fields. Now, their principle income comes from renting rooms to migrants.

The fact that the increase in migrants has become the chief source of income for residents, has led to social stresses. “Stealing, punches thrown, serious fights,” the village cadre Liu Xuezhu complained. Party Branch Secretary Wang Changxiang believes that the influx of migrants has not only increased the cost of village management, but exceeded what the village infrastructure could bear. Public health, roads, electricity, and water –these all need greater investment.

Therefore, the Laosanyu village committee  applied for permission from the Xihongmen town government,  to implement the sealed management, with the gates, walls, police boxes, 24 hour patrols, and permits necessary for outsiders to enter.

The community policemen and village committees in every village practice civil mediation, to overcome internal contradictions and mediate disputes. Mediation is at the center of what they do. They bring to fruition the adage,”small matters are not taken out of the village, large matters are not taken out of the town, contradictions are not turned over to higher authorities.” In every village, it is strictly observed that police and Floating Population Management personnel must be proportioned as 2.5% of the resident population and 5% of the floating population, responsible for village security.

A villager said, the permit is the size of a public transportation pass. To get one, a person must bring his or her landlord and identity card to a police sub-station. After following the procedure to obtain a temporary residence permit, the applicant uses this permit to apply for and obtain a permit.

Wang Changxiang believes that sealed management is an effective way of getting information about the non-native population. “Questionable people would not dare apply for a temporary residence permit.” A certain portion of the non-native population are idlers concealing themselves. Such persons, who “sponge off friends to eat three meals” are now unable to enter Laosanyu.

Sealed management is not entirely unknown to the village. During the unusual period in 2003 [SARS], the village first underwent sealed management, in which no one from outside was permitted to enter. In 2008 during the Olympics, sealed management was also temporary put into practice. “The first time it was putting up a rope, for the Olympics it was a pole, and now, a police box,” cadre Liu Xuezhu said half-jokingly.

However, for migrants in the village now, the way it affects them is not the same. Beside a line of rented rooms at the north end of the village, a young man named Liu said, “being surrounded by walls on all sides, and having constant patrols, feels like being inside a prison.”

Underlying cause: urban transformation

At the end of 2008, Beijing began a large scale effort to “unify town and country” linking together 753 square kilometers in a redevelopment. This involved the remaking of 227 administrative villages,  and affecting 450 natural villages. The early stage of this project, starting in 2010, comprised 50 focal points of renovation in  Chaoyang, Haiyang, Fengtai, and Daxing districts.

Wang Changxiang said that early in 2009 the effort to “urbanize the rural areas of Daxing” was accelerated. The plan to rebuild Laosanyu was set to start this year. But because of a change in leadership among the higher authorities, the effort was postponed to three to five years in the future.

Meanwhile, as more old buildings were pulled down in Jiugong and Hongfangzi [in Daxing] to the north, the floating population drifted south to Laosanyu. As the rooms available to rent were all filled, villagers began putting up second stories on their buildings. Some villagers just went ahead and built simply constructed buildings directly on the vegetable plots to the north of the village. In this way, buildings not conforming to code spread like weeds along the periphery of Laosanyu.

In 2009, the Xihongmen town government which had jurisdiction over Laosanyu village, repeatedly organized the forced dismantling of these non-conforming buildings. In order to restrict their spread, it went so far as to state that “the existence of illegal buildings and the salaries of the village cadres are linked together.”

By the end of 2009, Wang Changxiang said 60 percent of his salary was deducted, “the main cause was because of these illegal buildings.” He told this reporter, “We cadres cannot fully enforce the law. We can tear down illegal buildings on open land, but if a villager puts one up inside his own household compound, we can only try to dissuade him.”

“We want to control the influx of non-natives to the village, and preserve the village infrastructure in a relative balance,” said Wang Changxiang. By putting in place the “sealed management,” they reduce the number of new renters, thus effectively curtailing the chaotic building boom within private compounds.The villagers get less profits, but also have less disputes. And when the wholesale rebuilding of Laosanyu takes place according to the urbanization plan, the net cost will be less [fewer buildings to dismantle].

“Next year we will start pulling down buildings for the urbanization. We will tell the villagers who want to build something, you will never realize your investment.” The cadre Liu Xuezhu explained.

Wang Changxiang has a mental blueprint of the future Laosanyu. They will remove the peasants by tearing down their old houses and relocating them to better public housing, and they can build there an ecological green park. As for the remaining land, the government will change its status, invite bids and auction it off to be developed as a more concentrated residential district. At present  the highest price paid for a hectare of land in Daxing is 1,900,000 yuan [approx. 280,000 dollars]. If 600 hectares of land in the village is sold, after the various levels of the government have taken their percentage, the village will still have 2 or hundred million yuan [44 million dollars] left over.

In Laosanyu now the roads are uneven, the buildings by the side of the roads small and shabby. But if one inquires if any room is for rent, the answer is always, “No, they are all full.”

At the corners of intersections in the center of the village, there are scattered piles of old bricks on the roadside, and next to these ponds of liquid cement — evidence of the villagers’ building fervor.

In conclusion, the purpose of “sealed management” is not just to assist public security, or to relieve pressure on the environment, etc.The hidden cause behind sealed management, which most people do not know, is to prepare for the forthcoming urban transformation and dismantling of villages such as Laosanyu according to the urbanization plan.

Aftermath of the Village being Sealed Off

At the clamorous and noisy village entrance, a long line of people queues up to pass by the public security gate. Inside the police box, a crowd of people wait to receive a pass.

The Laosanyu village head Guo explained that those who make up the  police patrol groups and officials in Floating Population Management are all villagers who have passed an exam, and are chosen by the Public Security Bureau. Besides that, the town gives each and every village resident a monthly subsidy of 400 yuan, which is taken from the funds collected as the “public sanitation fee” and “water use fee.” Aside from 11,000 yuan given to the village committee, the rest is returned to the people.

The village committee set the public sanitation fee and water use fee at 30 yuan a month, but considering the number of migrants, they temporarily reduced it to 10 yuan a month. “Before, we had no way to count how many outsiders there were, but now we can use registrations for passes to gather our statistical information.”

The villagers are universal in not taking the sealed management seriously. “Previously the village was sealed off for May 1 or National Day, but not for long” they said causally to this reporter.

Now that they are no longer able to build wherever they want, some villagers have taken advantage of the sealed management and gotten jobs as patrolmen. But as for the 6000 migrants, their rents are on the rise. Those coming into the village are fewer, and the shops have less business. “If the environment has improved, rents should rise a bit. Those who can’t afford it will leave, and migrants with a higher income will stay and live here.” Liu Xuezhu believes this is a proper way to control the flow of incomers.

Laosanyu still has more than 600 hectares of farmland, which the residents mostly rent to  migrants to farm. A small part of it is lent out to build cheap rental housing on. Li Lian, who built on a vegetable plot to the north of the village, is worried it will be torn down soon. “I put it up the fourth month of last year. At least if they wait two and a half years I’ll get my investment back, but if they tear it down now, my money will not come back to me.”

In fact,  as Beijing urbanization expands from the 2nd ring to the 6th ring, the floating population is driven outward, away from the very urbanized areas they have had a hand in building. The most recent tenants in Laosanyu, have just rolled up their traveling bags and arrived from Hongfangzi, a place just slightly closer to the center of the city.

At present, in Beijing the floating population is 5,090,000. In Daxing there are 591,000. It is one of four districts in which the population is “inverted.” Among these, 85 percent  live in the five northern towns of Daxing.

A prominent cadre in Daxing pointed out that most of the floating population in Daxing work in low skill labor intensive jobs in garment factories, food services, construction, small industrial plants, and waste recycling. While those in urban management see them as a “low end” population, every day they provide essential services to Beijing city, to such an extent that when this population goes back home for New Year’s or other festivals, the city inhabitants feel quite inconvenienced.

The five northern towns of Daxing (Xihongmen,  Jiugong, Yinghai, Huangcun, Yizhuang) are about to adopt the sealed management model. Altogether 92 villages are going to implement this by the end of this year. As this happens, villages like Laosanyu will cease to take in more of the floating population. With the  upcoming “urban transformation” members f the floating population will be pushed further and further out. Can they find any secluded nook anywhere in the city from which they will not be soon banished?

丰台 Fengtai

旧宫 Jiugong

红房子 Hongfangzi

瀛海镇 Yinghai town

黄村 Huangcun

亦庄 Yizhuang

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