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Village # 14 Xiaojiahe shequ

January 30, 2018

Village # 14 is Xiaojiahe, shequ, under the administration of the Malianwa residential district, in Haidian district

Xiaojiahe, shequ 肖家河社区
Malianwa residential district马连洼街道
Haidian district 海淀区

konjaku: Xiaojiahe has gotten attention in the media as a village in which members of the “ant tribe” have settled. The ant tribe refers to college graduates either looking for jobs in, or recently hired into, the tech industry, centered in Zhongguocun (Beijing’s silicon valley). Beginning in 2010, there were a number of stories about a flood of recent college graduates, whose numbers outpaced the available jobs in the science and technology sector. As these graduates got by with lesser positions or part-time work, they faced rising rents in Beijing, and were forced to live in the overcrowded urban villages along with migrant laborers. The urban villages offered cheap rents and mass transportation to tech districts, but did not meet any building codes or safety standards.
The first village that received coverage was Tangjiangling. A group of mothers toured the dark and narrow living quarters with expressions of concern, a mop top duo with guitars composed anthems of the graduates’ tribulations, and the bus stop where the graduates lined up every morning in the thousands to takes buses to Zhongguancun became a famous place. Tangjiangling was soon designated one of the 50 villages, and was demolished. The graduates moved on to Liulangzhuang, also subsequently demolished, and then, apparently, to Xiaojiahe and other places.

The eventual fate of the ant tribe seems a more compelling story in the media than paying attention to the migrant laborers who also have been forced to move on from one urban village to the next. But another reason reporters have come to investigate Xiaojiahe is that it is a good example of the idea that the urban village has become something that, after being demolished, continues a kind of half-existence, or freely replicates itself in other places. As long as people come to Beijing to try to make their fortune, they will need a place offering cheap rents, basic services, and lax administration.

As detailed below, the land occupied by the village called Xiaojiahe ( the extent to which it was ever a village is in dispute) was turned over to Peking University, in a project to demolish the village and build faculty housing. Although this project was delayed by corrupt transactions, eventually the majority of the villagers moved away, into new replacement housing. However, a larger entity, Xiaojiahe shequ, with the same characteristics of an urban village, continued to exist in the same general area. While the village was demolished by 2013, news articles about renting to migrants, or about demolishing illegal buildings in Xiaojiahe shequ, continue up to the present (2017-18).

This summary of Xiaojiahe is undated, but is probably before 2011.肖家河

Previously called Xiaojiahe village, because of the fast pace of development in Beijing it is now more of a region than a village. It is on the northern edge of Yuanmingyuan (park and ruins of the former imperial gardens and palace), on the north bank of the Qinghe river, and southwest of the China Agricultural University. It started as an army barracks protecting Yuanmingyuan. It hass been classified as one of the fifty “focal-point” urban villages to be transformed.

At present it takes fifth place in all Beijing city for the influx of migrants. For every one thousand residents, there are several tens of thousands of migrants. One-story houses have had another story added, to create rooms to rent to migrants. As one of the last areas of old one-story houses not yet demolished by 2010, it was a place for members of the ant tribe (college graduates looking for high-tech jobs) to cluster, being only 20-30 minutes from Zhongguancun (Beijing’s silicon valley), and thus a flourishing business for area residents renting to tenants.

There are 5131 permanent residents and 17,800 migrants living in Xiaojiahe shequ.

In the village 80% of the tenants are migrants, with the remaining 20% of renters being mostly older people. The young have increasingly moved away.

The two and three story buildings, whether older or newer, are all illegal. The demolition and relocation plan stipulates that none of them meet the standard for compensation. When public security or city management personnel were around villagers adding to their homes stopped work, but when these management people left, they resumed work at a feverish pace. They feel the profits they can receive from renting, will, when the village is finally demolished, make up for the compensation they will not receive. “In a word, constructing rooms to rent is a form of steady income, it can’t lose.”

Xiaojiahe is an example of many urban villages, dispersed in hidden corners of the urban fabric. Spurred on by demand and desire for profit, they keep replicating themselves.

konjaku: here we are introduced to the plan to demolish the village and build housing for Peking University starting in late 2011.

Peking University “enclosed site” to build on is an urban village: the demolition and relocation of villagers is starting up

2011-07-19 09:39:12

Eight years ago the government granted to Peking University 430,000 square meters of land, on which sits an urban village slated to be transformed. As of 2011-05, Peking University formally began the project to build the Xiaojiahe Teaching and Administrative Staff Residential Housing. Total investment is 4200,000,000 yuan (634 million dollars). According to a rough draft of the plan, this will provide housing for 5000 families.


a rendering of the Peking University plan (above)

When Tsinghua University carelessly revealed that it planned to build 5000 residential units, this caused a storm of public opinion (see note below), and Peking University is being very low key in the aftermath. There are many colleges, universities and research institutes in the same boat as Peking University, that want to solve the difficult problem of insufficient housing for young faculty and staff.

An official from the land resources bureau who did not want to give his or her name said that if colleges and universities build their own housing for young faculty members and sell it to them at a reduced price based on their ability to pay, these faculty members then do not have to go out into society and compete for other public housing resources (government-built low income housing). This is not a bad thing. “The key is to make sure the funds for construction are not allocated from state financial resources. Also, if this goes along with a project to transform an urban village, what’s wrong with that?”

On the south side of the China Agricultural University western campus is a large patch of one- story homes straddling Yuanmingyuan West Road. To the north a number of tall buildings tower overhead, making the village seem out of place. This reporter visited this patch of land which is about to be demolished. A resident on the east side of the road told me that from the 5th month demolish-and-relocate notices have been put out, and employees of the relocation company have been going door to door measuring and surveying houses. On the west side of the road there are narrow alleys of small stores going in all directions, and the demolish-and-relocate posters are on all the walls, dated 2011-05-13. The announcement states that Peking University has a contract (2010) with the Beijing Municipal Government to construct its faculty housing at Xiaojiahe, and as of 2011-05-12, all new house construction or additions to houses must be suspended.

A passerby pointed out to this reporter the headquarters of the Xiaojiahe neighborhood committee. In the display window outside the headquarters was posted the environmental impact report on the project, signed by the University.

This poster describes the scale of the project. What will we constructed is: housing for teaching and administrative staff, a complete residential village with facilities, public service centers, and replacement housing for the village. Construction will start on 2012-05.
This reporter called the phone number given on the notice, which turned out to be the construction office of the Peking University Xiaojiahe project. The staff member who answered said, “We have not comprehensively put together all the data yet. In this first stage of the project, we have been very busy, and we are not yet ready to receive inquiries from the media.”

Xiaojiahe compensation and replacement housing project starting up

There will be a dual process of substitution of the old house area for the new residence, and also monetary compensation. There are 248 household compounds to be demolished, involving 1056 people (the population listed in the records). The Tengyu Demolition and Relocation Company won the contract, and is starting work on 2011-10-20.

Xiaojiahe was designated a focal-point village by Beijing city in 2010. Because it is in the urban-rural intersection zone, there are many migrants who rent as tenants, and the rental housing constructed by villagers, lacks official property rights. At this point, the command post has laid the foundation for the job, by surveying each house, according to “quality over speed” and “taking the easier first, the hard later.” The demolition and relocation company knows the village situation well. They have drawn up a meticulous plan, and dispatched their crack troops and brilliant commanders in six small working groups. Already they have got many families to sign contracts.


Note: for the Tsinghua University controversy, see

“Tsinghua University faculty are not really of the social stratum that qualifies for preferential treatment allowing them to pay less for housing. The government should allot the land for those who are really in need. If the available land in Haidan district decreases after Tsinghua University gets what it wants, then everyone else who wants to purchase residences will face more competition, and higher prices, for fewer housing choices, ” Beijing real estate specialist Chin Bing commented.
According to Chin Bing, unless Tsinghua University can prove that the land on which QianBajia and HouBajia sits originally belonged to the University, it will be difficult to remove doubts that they are trying to seize public resources, wealth and benefits belonging to village residents and the public. If the village land is not granted to Tsinghua University, it will be turned into market priced housing. The profits from sales of those residences will be income going back to the government, which will in turn benefit the residents.

konjaku: several blogs detail progress in the project, and then delays:

2011-05-06 the Xiaojiahe region began the process of demolition and relocation. [Summary: the Malianwa neighborhood, according to instructions, convened assemblies of residents and party members to hear details of the plan and give opinions. Party members committed themselves to be the first to move out of their homes, then went among the masses to give information, heart-to-heart talks, feedback, listen to objections, etc., to prepare for an orderly process of demolition and relocation, etc. etc.]

The Tengyu demolition company, which has transitioned from a state-run enterprise to a market-economy company, won the bid to demolish and relocate villagers at Xiaojiahe in preparation for construction of housing for Peking University teaching and administrative staff. Last year they also won the bid to demolish other buildings at the site, which gives them two good outcomes and the income from both projects in the bag. At the command post they are vigorously organizing the command structure, and meticulously forming small groups, following the watchwords “quality first, speed second,” and “difficulties will come later, but persevere.” In a deep and thorough-going way they are going house to house to carry out field work.

Because this area is in an intermixed urban-rural zone, there are many buildings renting to tenants, the migrant population is high. The composition of people living in any one building is complex. There are many buildings with upper stories added on privately; in general, the putative owners of buildings have no papers showing their property rights. For all these reasons the field work — a survey of each building and its occupants –runs into obstacles every day. At present 87% of the survey is complete, amounting to 208 household compounds. The area to be surveyed is in total 105,600 square meters, with 248 compounds, and 1056 registered permanent residents. The compensation plan is still being worked out. At present there is a section of homes that cannot be assessed yet, they are waiting for more details on the compensation policy to come out before they agree to the process. As soon as that is done, the demolition and relocation will begin immediately.


konjaku: this is in May, then June. However, six months later:


The demolition and relocation project of Xiaojiahe has at present been obstructed. The reason is that Haidian township has maliciously embezzled ownership of buildings slated to be demolished. The original owners signed contracts under which they would be paid for the buildings, but Haidian township, saying the contracts were under review in a new examination and approval process, seized the rights to the buildings for themselves. Later an informant made clear the reason behind this. It was because Haidian township gave the rights to several buildings set to be demolished in Dashiqiao to Tsinghua University. The owners of those building refused to go along, and camped out in protest in a multii-story office building in Haidian township. At the end of its rope, and to solve the issue, Haidian township then gave the rights to the Xiaojiahe buildings to the Dashiqiao owners (by embezzling the funds set aside for the Xiaojiaje building owners). Now that the truth has come out into the daylight, the villagers of Xiaojiahe have woken up, and the demolition is halted. Ha Ha.

Another blogger’s comment

You all shouldn’t complain about about Peking University as being behind the demolition problem. The real cause of misfortune is the close connection formed between the Xiaojiahe project team and Haidian township. Someone took the funds set aside for the Peking University project and gave them to Haidian township. The appraisal team had already taken their share of the money. At present, Haidian township, in order to placate other aggrieved parties, has embezzled from the Xiaojiahe project. Where is Heaven’s justice? I hope the Beijing Municipal Party Committee and the Xiaojiahe village wake up to the truth soon. If you’re about to sign a contract, don’t be taken in!

konjaku: because of this, it seems the demolition and relocation project of Xiaojiahe was delayed. The next thing I find (another blog) dated 2014, says the demolition took place the previous year, 2013, which means that perhaps there was a delay of two years.


I live close to Xiaojaihe at Zhonghai Fenglian. I have passed by it everyday from childhood and seen all the changes.

They say Xiaojiahe was originally a shabby old village 90 years ago, next to the China Agricultural University. But that’s all nonsense, there was nothing there back then. After the Zhongguancun Industrial Park was built, a large batch of northern floaters who were temporary workers settled there. More technology workers settled there after 2000, following construction of the Shangdi Science and Technology Park.

The villagers used this opportunity to build up their own homes, to three, four, or five stories. The buildings were densely packed, streets narrowed, small stores facing the street carelessly splashed dirty water, wastewater flowed along both sides of Yuanmingyuan Road, garbage was everywhere.

Last year, the majority of Xiaojiahe was demolished in order to make way for the Number 16 subway line. But the strange thing is, the ten or twenty houses of the resisters (nail houses) were not demolished. Four story buildings sit isolated amid the ruins. But many of the villagers relocated long ago.

As construction began on the Number 16 subway line and the Peking Unversity residential quarters began rising from the ground, these lonely nail houses stood out all the more. These are buildings put up by villagers without permits, not 500 meters from the scenic district of Yuanmingyuan. What was left were the larger buildings, four to six stories, not the two or three story ones, perhaps these would cost more to demolish.

I found these photos, of the buildings finally being demolished.




If you built an illegal building, why, when the majority of your neighbors leave, do you not also leave? Is it possible that you demand higher compensation? Are you unwilling to accept the replacement housing, or do think the compensation is insufficient?

I could not possibly act like you in such a reckless way, regardless of the consequences. Maybe the government policy was not good, but 99% of your neighbors accepted it and left.

konjaku: one would expect that is the end of Xiaojiahe. However,  articles in 2013 describes the Xiaojiahe area still operating as before.

Xiaojiahe becomes the new place of residence for the ant tribe –villagers turn from planting vegetables to renting rooms


Reporters Liu Fei, Xiao Yuan. Trainee, Zhao Huiying

As reported in China Voice, Tangjialing, Xiaoyuehe, Xiaojiahe…these have all been locations where the ant tribe has flocked to live. Tangjialing, one of the 50 listed-up villages, has been already transformed from a dirty and disorderly urban village, to a re-made urban district.

However, at present there is still a part of Xiaojiahe shequ, densely packed with illegal buildings, on what were once vegetable fields. These buildings were constructed to rent rooms to migrants. This area is not far from the university, next to busy city roads, and borders on orderly rows of multi-story buildings. This area of rentals from door to door, house to house, is a mire of foul odors, strewn with garbage. It forms a hidden danger to public safety.

Mr Wang: “As a location it is convenient to the Fifth Ring, and to Zhongguocun (Beijing’s silicon valley). Traffic conditions are pretty good too.”

Mr Wang is a temporary laborer who came here four or five years ago, and rents a room here for about 600 yuan a month. He said the peasants who used to grow vegetables here now make more money by putting up buildings on the land and renting rooms to migrants like himself.

The villagers say honestly that there was no profit in growing vegetables, but renting rooms makes their lives much easier. The buildings they construct are not standard. They have no proof of property rights. When they rent, they don’t use a contract. The person that wants to rent simply gives a cash deposit of 100 yuan, then shows up on the appointed day.

The majority of these buildings are brick. Going inside, there are can be ten, or even up to thirty rooms. Various odds and ends are on the floor, and on the wall are posted yellowing warning notices from the police and fire department. The narrow paths that link the buildings are winding and zig-zagged, there are many tunnels through which a person can barely pass. After it rains, the dirt roads turn to a muddy mire, and there is a stench from escaping sewage.

In going about interviewing people, we reporters have found that the rental rooms are densely packed, there are many people living in a confined space, the roads are meandering, and at night there are no streetlights. Gas, fire, electricity–the hidden dangers are frightful to contemplate. In this urban-rural zone outside the fifth ring, who has managing authority?

In answer to this question, tenants say: last year, City Management personnel inspected here for one period of time. During the day they sat there, and did not let anyone proceed with building [illegal buildings or additions to buildings]. People waited till they left, then began building again. In general they did not make anyone dismantle anything they had built, just prevented them from building. Sometimes they made people tear down a section of a recently constructed second story, but the people waited till they were gone and just rebuilt it.

During the winter, the village committee came and passed out safety information. They knew these buildings were here, that they had been built up on vegetable fields.

(Another tenant:) On a winter’s day, the village neighborhood committee sent people to go door to door to pass out safety information sheets. One was about preventing carbon monoxide poisoning, one was about the danger of old electrical wires causing fires. The village committee people greeted everyone, and inspected for hidden dangers.

Government says: in this urban rural linked zone, City Management, the Neighborhood Committee, and the Town Administration to some extent overlap. Taking Haidian town as the main managerial authority, they are aware of the situation concerning the illegal buildings.

A Haidian town illegal building inspector: this formerly rural area has become covered with illegal buildings, all done without permits. Why don’t we dismantle them then? At present, we cannot act. If we just start dismantling the illegal buildings, the villagers will have nowhere to live. Everywhere there are illegal buildings, and unless the problem is tackled as a whole and there are provisions for all the residents to relocate, only then can the illegal buildings disappear.

Here one can go out one’s door, and there is a food market, one can see a doctor, there is a school one’s child can go to, a short distance away is a small retail district. Traffic is convenient, and rents are cheap. All these factors combine to make this place ideal for members of the ant tribe. However, the dirty and messy environment, poor sanitation, and unsafe construction of buildings present fears that cannot be ignored.

Three years ago, the transformation of Tangjialing began, and many members of the ant tribe had no choice but to look for new digs. Following the Changping subway line toward the north, they encamped in one noisy and chaotic village after another. But even as they moved farther from the city, rents steadily climbed. In the three years since 2010 rents have risen 40 percent overall, in some hot areas as much as 50 percent. The ant tribe had nowhere to rest. Eventually, places like Xiaojiahe came to seem favorable. But how to deal with the hidden dangers of Xiaojiahe? How about finding a way for the ant tribe to live somewhere with some dignity?

Original title: Xiaojiahe is reduced to an urban village –here the ant tribe finds its new “Tangjialing”

Beijing urban village, Xiaojiahe: all the rentals are illegal buildings –they can manage the rent money, but not public safety



author Zhao Xibin

Rents in Beijing have risen every month, for the last 52 months, up to the time of this article. This means recent graduates, probably starting out with little income, have looked to the outer suburbs of the city to find something affordable.

Outside the 5th ring, Xiaojiahe is an urban village offering cheap rents. In graduation season, the rental market heats up, and the village is buzzing with activity. Young faces shuttle back and forth. Some have already rented, others are looking for rooms. Whether these illegal buildings are safe or not does not enter into their minds –it’s the price they care about.

This reporter went to Xiaojiahe to investigate why urban villages existing as rentals for recent college graduates, like Tangjialing, [the first place these graduates congregated, before it was demolished] keep replicating themselves.

Grease stains seep across the yellow cloth filled with chunks of meat, and there is a small fan hanging above the cloth to drive away flies and mosquitos. The meat vender’s stall is next to a fruit stand, next to grocery store –all crowded together. The smell of garbage and effluent water attacks the nostrils of passersby.

Inside Xiaojiahe village, 200 meters north of the bridge marking the Fifth Ring, it is pretty hard to find any one-story house without a rental sign posted on the wall. Other signs sprout up along the sides of the road. There are many two or three story additions, added by the owner. A Mr Zhao said this started four years ago. “We built up to add 20 rooms. The cheapest is 550 yuan a month ($83). Right now we have two rooms for rent.”

Inside each ten meter square room along a long corridor, there is one bed, one simple wardrobe, and one table. This is standard. Mr Li, 24 years old, had just rented a second-story room. He spread out the bedding he had used in his college years on the bed, and put a washbasin under the bed. A plastic box held his clothes. The last article to unpack was a few books, which he placed where he liked, beside the bed.

There was one 80 centimeter fan, and a window 50 centimeters high. The sunlight, passing through the metal grating put on the window to prevent theft, required a great effort to get into the room at all. Every window in Xiaojiahe has this metal grating, and the space between buildings can be less than a half meter.

“Many live here because it is close to the jobs in Zhongguancun, and rents are cheap.” There are a number of public transportation lines from Xiaojiahe that go toward Zhongguancun. Rent is 600 yuan a month, with 60 yuan for internet and 40 yuan for water and electricity.

Despite the yellowing notices posted from the fire department, the rental buildings are not equipped with a single fire extinguisher. Electric wires snake into rooms in a disordered way. Many rooms have induction cookers, electric kettles, or other electric devices, but the power strips provided are not in good shape. this creates a hidden danger, but Mr Li was not concerned. “These problems are minor. What matters is that the rent is good, and the location is great.”

Just as on every other day, Hu Yong waits to squeeze on to the 333 bus for Zhongguancun. Once Hu Yong and all the other office workers are gone, the village is suddenly not crowded. For the villager old Mr Zhao, this is the best time of day. He sits outside the building he built himself, opens the front gate and invites people passing by to come rent the one room he has left. He has twenty rooms to rent in the building, and facing it across the street, five rooms in a one-story house. “I’m 70 years old, and have lived here all my life. My wife and I still live in this village, but our children have all moved away. We’re used to it here, and don’t think of moving away. We just stay to mind our buildings.”

At present migrant tenants made up 80 percent of the village population. The remaining 20% of villagers is mostly older people. The young people has gone to buy or rent rooms in the city. Mr Zhao says he gives most of the profit he gets from renting rooms to his children, “We two old people don’t spend that much on ourselves.” In the village there is only an internet café and a billiards hall, and no other recreational facilities. “Young people don’t want to live here. They go into the city, and don’t return.”

Mr Zhao said it cost him about 300,000 yuan to construct his building four years ago. Altogether he has 30 rooms to rent, and calculating his rental income and his costs, he has made 235,000 yuan a year. ($35,000 dollars)

This reporter found that in general rooms rent from between 400 to 800 yuan a month. In many cases the rooms are completely dark, with no sunlight getting in even on a clear day.

However, there is one section in Xiaojiahe of single-story residential buildings, which have all been built together in a uniform fashion, and are well-maintained and managed. In each building there are some fifteen families renting, amounting to a total of one hundred families in total in the whole section. A tenant said he works for a private company in Zhongguancun, and was one of the first to rent here. He said the landlord rents the land from the village and pays the village a yearly fixed amount, and has constructed the buildings to rent to workers. Since the rent is 650 yuan, he gets an initial income of 700 thousand yuan a year ($106,000).

A Xiaojiahe neighborhood committee staff member admitted that although there have been attempts to get villagers to stop building illegal buildings, they only stop work when being observed, then continue again afterwards. Since they can make a profit of 200,000 to 300,000 yuan thousand a year. (30 to 45 thousand dollars). However, these illegal buildings will not be part of the compensation package when the village relocates [only the original surface area of the home will be compensated for].

In the eyes of the villagers, the buildings they constructed give them an income which they will no longer have when the village is demolished, and they should be compensated for those buildings too. “In short, renting out these buildings is a business which produces a steady income year after year–without any losses.”

There are a number of other villages dispersed in nooks and crannies of the city which are driven by the market demand for cheap rents to transform themelves in the same way as Xiaojiahe.

At the end of last year, I participated in a project to survey Xiaojiahe shequ.


Xiaojiahe bus routes. It take twenty to thirty minutes to get to Zhongguancun.

Inside the village, besides the rooms for rent which the villagers have built themselves, there are in two places more specialized one-story housing built specifically to rent, as an investment. One was originally old-people’s housing that has been renovated, the other is a newly constructed development built where ducks used to be raised. I followed several college graduates who were doing their year of practical training as they looked for rooms to rent. I had not seen before these rows of standardized housing. But apart from rooms to live in, there are no other facilities. At dawn every morning there are long lines to use the public latrines.


one row of standardized housing


another development


college graduates waiting for the landlord


the inside of a room for rent

konjaku: it seems that some parts of Xiaojiahe were demolished, but other parts continued to function as before. This long, detailed article is a sensitive portrayal of Xiaojiahe after demolition –of surviving urban sections in which people continue to live, between high-rises and ruins, knowing that everything may be temporary.

Xiaojiahe: the A and B sides of an isolated island in the city

Portable buildings hidden in rubble, glimpsed from the expressway just inside the Fifth Ring, what remains of Xiaojiahe still has the maximum possible density of people that can crowd into the available space. There are all kinds of people here, not just northern floaters. The old and the young, permanent residents and migrants, the poor and the well-off: although their lives are interwoven, they live in two separate realities.

After the demolition and relocation, the Xiaojiahe shequ population shrank from 32,000 to 12,000 people. Although now more people packed into less space, the population ratio did not change substantially: residents and migrants were still at a 1:9 ratio, that is, an “inverted population ratio” in which there were ten times as many members of the floating population. Meandering inward from the 5th ring, the main road branches off into countless side roads, like branches and twigs from a tree, encompassing some 2200 or more families making a life here.


The village is like an old phonograph record with an A side and B side, with each side playing utterly different types of music.

Standing before a very short alley, a German shepherd guards the alley entrance, showing its teeth. Inside this alley ten meters long, five families live.

Wang Li is a full-time housewife. A graduate of a three year college, she married and now has a two-and-a-half year old son. Her twenty-something husband came to Beijing for temporary jobs, now they have opened a business together selling advertising billboards. Her husband often drives to far-off places to drum up business, so she has plenty of free time on her own.

In order that the family can spend time together, they all go in the car on deliveries.

Her son had made a line of several toy cars, and left them sitting there. A social worker, who visits families with children in the area, asked “Why don’t the cars move?” He answers, “They are stuck in a traffic jam.” Not yet three, and he already understands the concept of traffic jams.

In eight years, the rent has gone from 500 yuan a month to 1300. This increase of about three times is at the same pace as the rate of increase of China’s GDP, but this household of three is unable to keep up that pace. The one story house they rent still does not have a kitchen, or a bathroom, it is just ten square meters in all. A bunk bed takes up half the space, they store things on the top level and sleep on the bottom. Opposite that is a two square meter table on which they keep their tv and the rest of the personal items they use daily. Their door opens into a narrow corridor, in which barely two people can pass. From the eaves they hang washed clothes to dry, which they have to be careful not to knock down every time they go in and out.

When children of Xiaojiahe shequ reach school age, they can go to the village primary school, but Wang Li is thinking of taking her son back to her home town instead. She calculates that if she stays, it will cost 10,000 yuan year for nursery school and kindergarden, and 20,000 to 30,000 yuan (4600 dollars) to enter primary school. This is because of the necessity for gifts: “to enter Xiaojiahe Primary School you have to give the teachers a present, and enter through the back door.” Wang Li thinks it will be difficult to raise this much money. If she goes back to Hebei, they can save all the money they would have to pay on cash gifts, and the school fee is half as much. “Maybe we will go back home then.” But she hesitates: “The quality of education is better here in Beijing.” Also, she has read in books and on websites devoted to child rearing, that ‘it is better if the husband also participates in the child’s education, and when it’s a boy, the husband’s influence can be different from the mother’s.’

Beyond the rows of one-story houses, in one corner of Xiaojiahe shequ, there is a small two-story building. More than twenty families live here. Most are three-person families, but a few are couples with no children. Next to the staircase on the second floor, Wang Shuang lives with her family of four.

Compared to Wang Li, Wang Shuang seems more tired. She not only has to do all the housework, but she also must contribute to the family income. She works as a staffing go-between for a real estate company in Dongcheng. Her husband is a real estate seller. Her father-in-law works for the China Road and Bridge Corporation, and is away most of the year, while her mother-in-law lives at home, and does not work. Since there are three working and supporting the family, they are “worse off than some, but better off than others.”


Counting the time when she first came to Beijing to go to a three-year college starting in 2003, Wang Shuang has been here in the city for twelve years. Originally she is from Hengshui city, Anping county, Hebei province. Except for her, the other members of the family are now registered in Beijing. Originally they lived in Erlizhuang village (in Haidian) but moved to Xiaojiahe shequ when Erlixhuang was demolished.

“They say here is going to be demolished also, so we just live one day at a time.” Except that the road outside our house is not in good shape, Xiaojiahe in general is not bad. For the couple, transportation to their jobs is convenient, taking about one hour. They can afford to buy a small car, but because they have not won in the Beijing license plate lottery, they have put off buying. They live in a two room residence, with central heating. The heating works well, and the utility fee for it is 800 yuan a month.

Unlike Wang Li, Wang Shuang has her own kitchen and toilet. Her landlord provided beds, but Wang Shuang decided they were not of good quality and bought new beds to replace them. “We don’t think we’ll be living here for long, so we haven’t done anything else to fix this place up.” There’s no furniture except for two tables and a cabinet, and the walls are not painted. When they moved here they assumed it was temporary, and before they knew it nine years had passed.

The child of Wang Li and his small friends are growing up in this alley. They stare with curiosity at the stacks of charcoal honeycomb briquettes (for heating homes), and the fierce icicles on the eaves. From one year to another, they chase each other through the crowded alleyway, dodging the traffic, but eventually, they will be old enough to start school.

The Two Schools

Walking along the road, deeper into Xiaojiahe shequ, on all sides it is bleak and desolate. But exactly at noon several children appear, with flushed cheeks, and enthusiastically they point out the direction to their school. “Go straight on this road, and you’ll come to it. Our school is next to the Xiaojiahe Primary School.” The child who said this then took a breath, sucking up the mucus streaming out of his nose, and ran home for lunch. Soon the children re-emerged, and wearing cotton-padded clothes ran back to their school. There school is called Fenghua Aixin Xiwang primary school (Fengua, talent, Aixin, compassion, Xiwang, hope).

Fenghua School is not in a designated school site, but in a rented compound of buildings surrounded by a courtyard. The classrooms are simple, the walls unpainted. The exterior is painted with crude colorful paintings, to generate a warm atmosphere, but the paint is peeling. Children in muti-colored outfits running crazily around a large tree in the central courtyard, are not a bit shy of strangers. A stranger can readily join in their game, and chase and be chased. “Help me get away, Pangzi (fatty)! He is after me” they call out.



These children’s parents for the most part members of the floating population, who sell fruit at stalls on the road.

At noon the children line up in front of the library. Since the school is small, the library serves as their dining area. A ladleful of steaming potatoes goes in their bowls, and from the kitchen lady’s hand each receives one white steamed bun. “No matter what, we give them a good meal,” says the principal. This costs 160 yuan a month, which goes to paying the salaries of the kitchen staff. But perhaps not all the children find it tasty. One boy only eats half his bun, and when the teacher is not looking he upturns his bowl of potatoes into the garbage, then goes off in the direction of a snack shop.

Some children take their food to the classroom, others eat under the open sky. The ground still is still frozen, and some child slip and fall on icy patches. There are only one or two adults helping out, and sometimes they are too busy to manage everything.

The Fenghua school was started by a Ms Liang and her husband. Originally it was a child-care center. Ms Liang, who was working as a private tutor, saw that the Xiaojiahe Primary School did not admit the children of migrants, so she began teaching them, starting with five children. As the number of children increased, the Head of Xiaojiahe shequ saw the need for a new school, and in 1997 Ms Liang founded Fenghua School.

At present the threshold to get into the public school, Xiaojiahe Primary School, has been lowered, requiring only that applicants have made payments in the social insurance “five-in-one” (old age, medical, unemployment, industrial injury, and child-bearing), and social security. But still the enrollment in Fenghua School has steadily increased. The school has ten classes, and there are more than fifty students in each class. Although the students may come to Fenghua school by different routes, most have one thing in common: they are not entered into the national school registry. Until recently, Fenghua School was not a recognized school in the school system, and graduates had to face the same requirements (proof that they paid social insurance) to get into middle school as needed for Xiajiahe Primary School. Students pay 2000 yuan for each semester.

There are eleven teachers, and five other staff members, making sixteen in all. The certified teachers, who make 2000 yuan a month, are mostly female, recruited through (a classified ads website). The teachers start class at 7:20 in the morning, and the students are let out at 3:30. The teachers teach the main subjects– reading and writing, math, and English –in the morning, and the afternoon classes are taught by volunteers. “There are many college students who come and help us. We provide them with lesson plans.” These volunteers come from elite colleges and universities in Beijing — Beijing University, Minzu University of China, China Woman’s University, etc. “Without these volunteers helping with the workload, our teachers would be overwhelmed.”

He Yuping, who started in 2006, is considered the school’s “senior teacher.” He is the one in charge when the principal is not there. On work days, he lives in a room just ten meters square in the school office, sparsely furnished. The lock to the door is broken, and anyone with a wire could easily force their way in and steal the school’s valuable equipment: a laptop computer and a monitor for the school’s three security cameras.

Xiaojiahe Primary School and Fenghua School are separated from each other by one building, but to the students, they are in two different worlds.

While the road in front of Xiaojiahe Primary School’s front gate has turned into a pool of mud after last night’s rain, its freshly painted red walls and black entrance gate are imposing.


He Jiahao,a third-grader, is from a Hebei family. He went to Fenghua for first grade, but then transferred here. Like the other students, he wears a green and white uniform, with a red Young Pioneer’s scarf. When asked how the facilities are, he answers, “Great!” He says they fix up and repaint the classrooms after every semester. The classrooms have two air-conditioners –one on front and one in back — an electric fan, and central heating in the winter. They are also outfitted with the latest media equipment. Besides the usual course of studies, the students also have extra-curricular activities such as learning to play the hulusi (gourd flute), do dakuaiban (oral storytelling accompanied by wooden clappers), play soccer, or sing in chorus. Every semester they have field trips to museums, or other such places. As a school official said. “Under the blue sky, they grow up together.” In this school the children of migrants can enjoy the same education as Beijing schoolchildren.

At present Xiaojiahe Primary School has 1189 children, of which 23 are from Beijing permanent resident families. The rest, 98 percent, comes from the floating population. A School staff member explained: “We are a state-run school. The State Education Commission has stipulated that we cannot separate resident children from migrant children. If they come to the school to apply, we explain the procedure and let them know they have equal rights to an education under the national policy.” Starting in 2011, the Haidian State Education Commission promised that if migrant families transacted admissions procedures, their children could attend public schools on a temporary basis, without paying an extra fee. This has brought about criticism from some resident families.

In 2014 Beijing city introduced a new policy of school district partitioning. When Xiaojiahe became one of the district schools [drawing students from a wide area around it], some were shocked, because the neighborhood around it is so dilapidated. After families went to look at the school, internet sites were flooded with complaints from residents. How could their precious children be sent to such a place? A school spokesperson responded,” Yes, there are some problems. But we will not deny migrant children the right to get what you want for your own families –a good education. They too deserve the nine-year compulsory education.”

When school ends, the children come pouring out, then stand around in groups of two or three, talking. Their parents are busy with work, they must make their way home by themselves. Fortunately, they know these narrow streets well.

The Two Clinics

Wang Li’s son, Qi Zeyang, is always in her thoughts. Besides the necessities of daily life and school fees, there are other unexpected expenses. When Qi Zeyang has a cold for several days, they take him to the regular clinic, and they usually want to do an x-ray and give him intravenous fluids. In the most severe case. Qi Zeyang was hospitalized for ten days, and the bill was 9000 yuan, including hormones and nutritional supplements. Even with the 1000 yuan medical expense subsidy, this was hard for them to pay. However, this does not mean Wang Li is willing to take her child to be seen at the “black clinic.” She would rather get along, with the family tightening its belt for a while. But in Xiaojiahe shequ, the majority of people are different from Wang Li, and they are prefer going to the black clinic. Not only are the medicines cheaper, but one can have an intravenous treatment, which causes minor illnesses to be cured faster –and the patient then loses less time and money away from work.

Going further down the main road, a green sign draws one’s attention to the “Shixiangling Outpatient Clinic.” Through the window, one can look in and see several patients having intravenous drip treatments. The clinic is not large, with just one attendant. There are two doctors who alternate mornings and afternoons, and not enough nurses. At the entrance there is posted an add for a nurse, “Need for several nurses, salary to be negotiated.” When this reporter asked about the need for nurses and the doctors’ qualifications, the doctor on duty spoke with caution. “We are not the only black clinic around here — why don’t you go ask at one of the others?”

Although they always take their child to the regular clinic, when Wang Li or her husband have a minor illness, they go to the black clinic. “The doctors there have a good reputation, and you don’t have to wait in line to have lab tests in order to get a prescription. ” This saves them time. Even though they have medical insurance if they go to the regular clinic, “the insurance refund is not that much.”

Because there is an agreement on the district level that illegal clinics cannot operate in buildings zoned as residential homes, this clinic is inside a compound managed by the village committee, not by the residential district. It is safe as long as the village committee does not report it to the higher authorities.

The regular clinic is on the main road, crowded with traffic, in a one-story building shared with the offices of the neighborhood committee. Here the patients are far fewer. At ten in the morning, there is no one having an intravenous drip. “Many migrants come, saying they have a cold and want an intravenous infusion. We tell them it won’t work, and may have adverse side-effects, and that they should just take cold medicine. Then they leave, and go over there” (to the black clinic). The doctor said there is nothing she can do.With an intravenous treatment, one is more likely to have an allergic reaction, therefore it shouldn’t be used for things like colds. “If there is an oral medication, you don’t need an injection. If there is an appropriate injection, than you don’t need intravenous infusions. This is our principle.” This is a WHO guideline, which informs their practice. The doctors on the staff rotate between different clinics, the nurse is a graduate of a three-year college.

The antibiotic cephalosporin costs 22 yuan at that the black clinic, 22 yuan at the regular clinic. “Our drugs meet the national standard, but over there you have only their word. Our drugs are produced by Tong Ren Tang (China’s largest pharmaceutical company), if you look at the batch numbers of their drugs, you can tell they are counterfeit. When migrants come here, they don’t want to pay the registration fee of fifty cents, so they go over there instead. As for the drugs, ours would cost the same if they had a health insurance card and could get a refund, but as migrants, they don’t have the card (supplied by employers to regular employees) and have to pay full price.”

In the next half-hour three patients came to the regular clinic to have a prescription filled, and they all had a health insurance card. One of these, a 60 year old Beijing “uncle” said,, “I have a chronic condition, so I come here often to have my prescription filled — I live close by, so its very convenient.” Asked if he would go to the other clinic if this was was closed, he answered, “Absolutely not!” But migrants living in the area like Wang Li, don’t consider this regular clinic as being for them. In their minds it is “too costly” and “for residents only.” Even if the neighborhood committee began publicizing this clinic with a slogan like “Equal healthcare for all,” it is unlikely this would change the firm image which is set in their minds, and which they will pass down to the next generation. Considered this way, the regular clinic cannot escape its own “sickness.”

The weather gets colder, and at the entrance to the laundry opposite the neighborhood committee office, dirty water that has spilled out into the street congeals into ice. On the street people wrapped in cotton-padded clothes try to hurry, but make their way cautiously. The dumplings restaurant proprietor happily anticipates good business –there is nothing better on a day like today than a hot bowl of steaming dumplings. When his seventeen year old son comes home at noon for lunch, his wife hurries the boy inside –”it’s cold out there” –and brings him a bowl of dumplings. There are just a few tables, and on the menu on the wall, the prices have been rubbed out and changed several times.

The husband and wife when run the dumpling store came from te northeast 15 years ago. When they first came, they thought there are many opportunities to succeed in Beijing. They started with a twenty square meter store, selling dumplings and other northeastern dishes, and after a while they thought they could move to a thirty square meter store.

Because nearby is the construction site of replacement housing for the villagers, for several years the workers from that project come to eat lunch, and business had been good. But the buildings were quickly finished, and now there are fewer customers. “Usually a business like this makes 100000 yuan a year ($15,400 ), but last year we made twice that. But when you earn a lot, you spend a lot– life in Beijing is expensive, and the New Year’s holiday is a time when you spend a lot.”

Their prices are low. Thirty meat- and vegetable-filled dumplings are 14 yuan, vegetarian dumplings are 8 yuan. “Because we use only the best ingredients, our son loves the meat-filled dumplings.” The wife’s voice is gentle with affection. Their son is studying animation at Beijing Information Science School. They are thinking of sending him home to go to a regular senior middle school, but he wants to stay in Beijing, where his friends are, and attend an occupational middle school. The parents say they are willing to respect his choice. He came with them to Beijing when he was two years old, and he has only been back home for New Year’s once a year since then. When he speaks he doesn’t have the accent of his hometown, but rather the speech of Beijing alleyways.

If Wang Li’s son doesn’t go back with his mother to Hebei to start school but stays here in Beijing, when he becomes seventeen, he’ll be just like this boy. in love with the city brimming with opportunities and challenges. There are many hundreds here, like Wang Li and Wang Shuang, At dawn they get up and walk out of the long alley into the cramped streets, at night they crawl back and curl up in a narrow bed. Like Wang Shuang, they cannot help but sigh and think, “I never thought I would live here this long.”

































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