Skip to content

Xiaojiahe shequ part 2: the “portable building village”

February 8, 2018

konjaku: replacement housing for the Xiaojiahe villagers who signed contracts and moved out:


Built over the subway station, at Yuanmingyuan –the Xiaojiahe New Village


On summer days the lotus flowers are in full bloom, and the lotus flowers at Yuanmingyuang, situated between Zhongguancun and Shangdi, draws swarms of white-collar workers on holidays. To the north of Yuanmngyuang, Xiaojiahe was once classified as one of the sixty focal-point villages, but nowadays it appears to have come into bloom with a new face, as a high-end apartment complex aimed at white-collar workers, operating under the tradename of Danke Apartments, a quickly expanding internet property management firm with lots of capital.

The Nongdananlu (Agricultural University South Road) station on the new Number 16 subway line will open soon [it opened Dec 30, 2017]. There are now several ways to get to Zhongguancun and Shangdi, using the 4 and 16 lines, and transferring to buses –commuting is now extremely easy. From the Xiaojiahe New Village [Danke Apartment] complex, one can go directly into the underground subway station.


The Xiaojiahe New Village [Danke Apartment] complex is next to the west side of the China Agricultural University, and around it is a mature, well-developed town district. Well-established restaurants serving hot pots and other specialities are lined up in great numbers. The Baiwang shopping center is the largest in the area. Supermarket, general merchandise, food and beverages, amusement facilities, everything is there.


Along Nongdananlu Road on weekends for 2.5 kilometers, the street is closed to vehicle traffic for bicylists and pedestrians, to create a relaxed atmosphere. There is an abundance of scenic areas close by with Yuanmingyuan, Yiheyuan (the Summer Palace), and Baiwang Mountain [Baiwangshan forest park]. The Jingmi diversion canal is 1 km away, Shucun County park is 2 km. It is a very convenient place to live.

New subway, new town district, new homes, new life: in changing from its old existence to its new face, the Xiaojiahe New Village is for us undoubtedly a pleasant surprise. If you are a 2017 college graduate, you can participate in the Danke Apartments Starling Plan [I will cover Danke Apartments in a separate post] and get 1000 yuan in credits, which you can use to rent in a Danke apartment anywhere in the country (for details see their website). With so many great advantages, how can you hesitate?


a typical Danke apartment (above)

konjaku:but will the former villagers get to enjoy all the amenities aimed at white-collar workers?

Danke Apartments gets capital investment, see:

Meanwhile, other parts of Xiaojiahe she are still being cleared out in 2017.

Xiaojiahe shequ will clean up 20,000 square meters of illegal buildings — the shequ’s greatest hidden danger

editor Liang Shuang, reporter Ye Xiaoyan, photos Wen Bing
source: Beijing Evening News




Starting this week, Haidian district Xiaojiahe shequ will be cleaned up. The population is severely inverted (more migrants than original residents), the environment is disordered and full of hidden dangers. Starting with sealed management over the area, the buildings will be demolished. A resident said, “Take a look at how we live. At long last it will take on the real appearance of a community.”

If one goes in a small gate with a small sign saying “Xiaojiahe village welcomes you” in the northeast corner from Xiaojiahe bridge, one enters into the Xiaojiahe shequ one-story house district. As with many such houses in the urban-rural intersecting zone, the road is only wide enough for one car to pass at a time, and on both sides between the low-lying houses, narrow alleys like capillaries wind off into the distance. This area is divided into three types: (1) homesteads with garden belonging to agricultural families, (2) historical compounds, and (3) illegal buildings. These illegal buildings were built on top of vegetable plots. The Party General Secretary Mu Zenggang is aware of the situation. “These vegetable fields once provided an important food supply for Haidian District. At that time I was head of the production brigade here. Starting in 2000, there was not enough water, and the villagers realized they could make money by renting out rooms instead, and one after another buildings sprang up.”

Mu Zenggang took this reporter through a full-scale rental complex. In this area there were some 2000 rooms for rent. It seemed like a small society of its own. “Every winter this area is a big headache for us –worrying about fires, carbon monoxide poisoning. ” He said that once villagers started renting rooms, they sub-contracted out the business, and now there are layers and layers of sub-contractors. “Now there are 12 big landlords and 23 small landlords. The landlords only collect the rent, and pay no attention to safety issues.”

Inside the rental complex there are many illegal buildings. One can vaguely discern the outline of the original form of the compound [imagine it without the illegal additions]. The large compound has been divided into several smaller ones. In a smaller compound, marked by an iron gate, there are twenty rooms about ten meters square. The outer walls are fitted with a wind scoop, because previously they had all been heated by coal stoves. This is one hidden danger (carbon monoxide poisoning). Another is that there are only two or three roads that pass entirely through the 20,000 square meter area, and they are narrow and winding. If there is a fire, the outcome is dreadful to contemplate.

Photo: example of a wind scoop, which provides ventilation when using a coal stove.


This year (2017) 7th month, in conjunction with the project to “switch from coal to electricity” Malianwa district will start to reorder the area. They have already repaved the roads and created zones marked by yellow lines in which only electric vehicles and bicycles can park, not cars –which has brought smiles to people’s faces. This ensures that there will be space for ambulances and fire trucks to pass through. “Last month many tenants moved out. We had to deal with the mess left first. It seemed like the street was blocked up by items such as discarded cooking pots. In order to regulate parking, in the southeast corner of the shequ we have put in a parking lot that can handle as many as eighty cars. Also, we have eliminated the garbage cans that stood in one place which people could use at any time, and are guiding the residents to put out their trash on specified days and times for pick-up by our newly allocated garbage truck. We are increasing the number of times the garbage is picked up or cleaned and removed from the streets. Before, wastewater flowing out in the streets mixed with garbage, but this won’t happen anymore.”

Mu Zenggang said, “Now that we have dealt with the problems, Xiaojiahe can at last stop being labelled as a ‘ a focal-point area for public security problems and hidden dangers.’ My anxieties are mostly relieved.” After clearing up the illegal buildings, the area will put sealed management into place, installing security cameras and adding more patrols to look out for fires or other dangers. “Because of the complicated history of this area, levying the land for development has not yet been completed. During an interim period before re-development, the area will be sealed off. ”

konjaku: nevertheless, another area is mysteriously beyond government control.

Xiaojiahe portable building village — there are illegal buildings on close to 10,000 square meters, the government says it cannot afford to demolish them


reporter: Liu Fei

On the edge of construction sites, one can often see portable buildings, those with “white walls, blur roofs,” removed when the construction project is done. However there is one small district in Beijing where the construction project has been suspended, but the portable buildings have not been dismantled and removed. On the contrary, over several years the number has increased, with a number of such buildings on one parcel of land, numbered and organized, to form a unique urban village composed of these portable buildings. The local city management department says that these are clearly illegal buildings.

Photos: examples of portable buildings



If these buildings are illegal, now did it come to be an urban village in which people live? How did this “portable village” develop?

The Beijing city statistics bureau published the results of a survey, indicating that more than half of Beijing’s migrant residents live outside the fifth ring. Xiaojiahe urban village, just outside the fifth ring, has a large concentration.

Seller: do you want to rent a room? We have some. Wait a minute –that man will tell you about it.

Landlord: I have rooms for 600 or 650, good for those with temporary jobs or selling. Electricity is 13 yuan a month, other utilities are free; pay that by the month. For the room, I like to have three month’s rent upfront, but you can pay one month at a time if you have to.

Reporter: And this room is in a portable building?

Landlord: It’s all portable buildings here. We live in them, we rent out rooms in them to migrants. This group of buildings, some are rented to people to live in, others are rented as warehouses, they have water and electricity, and you can add satellite tv if you want.

In the same parcel of land there are some unfinished cement buildings that stopped at one story, with the steel reinforcing bars for the second story exposed to the sky, swaying in the wind. These too are rented out as living spaces or warehouses.

Ms Li, a resident: These were originally a planned development of detached houses, but the upper stories and roofs were never built. There have been several bursts of activity in building simple and crude structures over the last several years. Because there are so many people living here in a small space, they have even dug basements and some are living underground. Sanitation is poor. Several years ago, a section was lost to fire.

Usually rooms in portable buildings are rented without furniture or other facilities, but tenants can get coal stoves in winter and air conditioners in the summer.

In this district of portable buildings, everywhere one sees some people pushing handcarts selling snacks, some dragging heavy carts selling goods, and some selling out of minibuses. At the south end of the area there is a garbage dump.

Resident: One night I woke up, and they were burning the garbage, the smell was really strong. That made me mad –afterwards I reported it to the police, but too much time had passed, it was too late.

Resident: I see all kinds of bad things that go in in these shacks. Within a small area you can find just about anything there is in the big city — like the black clinic.

Even though the illegal buildings come in many different forms, this place is like other urban villages: on the one hand cheap and convenient; on the other, full of hidden dangers from inadequacies in sanitation, public security, and fire prevention.

After the last several years Beijing has launched a strict initiative against illegal buildings. Residents in the area have discussed the problems of the portable building village with City Management, but in the end City Management Department Deputy-Director Wang Hongjun says they simply cannot demolish so many illegal buildings over so large an area.

Wang Hongjun said, “ Someone reports an illegal building, or we discover it ourselves, but when we search for it we find that a new buildings stands where we removed one before. As soon as we finished demolishing and move on, someone comes and puts up a new portable building on the same spot. One thing we can do is seal shut all of the underground rooms before the flood season. But as for the buildings above ground, we are unable to get rid of them, because the cost is too high.”

白墙蓝顶”的活动板房 white wall and blue-roofed portable buildings
板房村 “portable building village”

konjaku: the following article explains the origin of the portable building village

A thousand workers encircle the unfinished building project because of unpaid wages –they create a “demanding arrears portable building village”

Source Jinghua Times


Close to one thousand workers have lived among the unfinished buildings at the construction site for the Yuanmingyuan Flower Garden Villas for eight years, since work on the project was suspended. In order to have a place to live, they have put up blue-roofed portable buildings around the site, connected to gas, electricity, even cable tv. Cheap rents in these buildings have attracted migrant workers and peddlers. Gradually the population has grown, until it has become a “portable building village” of 2000 people, a unique form of settlement within Beijing city.

The workers are unwilling to leave until the dispute over unpaid wages is resolved.A residential district official said that although the area is over-crowded and the buildings all illegal, if they dismantle buildings the workers simply put up new ones, putting the authorities in a predicament.

Beijing in the 6th month, the days have started to become hot and dry. A couple of old people hobble slowly along, frequently bending over to carefully examine some piece of scrap on the ground to see if it can be resold, and if so, slowly putting it in a burlap bag. At nightfall, these two stagger inside the enclosing wall that surrounds the rows of portable buildings, and disappear inside. In there is what they call their home.

Outside the 5th ring, near Xiaojiahe Bridge, there is a district of ten thousand square meters enclosed by a wall, with neat and orderly rows of portable buildings, and also with unfinished structures that are topped by a chaotic jumble of criss-crossing exposed steel reinforcing rods. This small area forms a marked contrast with the new high-rise residential complexes in the vicinity.




Originally in this district there was a project to build 35 villas. Before the project was suspended, work had begun on the basements and first floor, with steel reinforcing bars to support the second floor.


During the initial phase of construction, these two old men had been watchmen at the construction site. At that time they never thought they would be “watching over” the site eight years later. Passing inside the portable building village on a crooked and pot-holed road one comes to their “home, “ a ten square meter room with only the most basic furniture, and no electronic appliances. Sitting in the unendurably hot and muggy room the two recount the history of how they came to Beijing.

In 2007, the son of one of the old men had become the leader of a construction team. He brought 300 men from Anyang in Henan province, their hometown, in order to work on this construction project; they were all hoping they could come to Beijing and make some money. The workers themselves had to contribute money to the project. The old man estimated that each put in at least 30,000 yuan. To raise this money they borrowed from friends and relatives. Many put in as much as 1 million yuan. The old man’s daughter-in-law explained that because the son (her husband) was the construction team leader, they raised more than 3 million yuan from friends and relatives, and then came to Beijing, bringing their parents with them.

In addition there were two other constructions teams, in the same way each with a team leader, each with some 300 workers. Altogether 1000 workers came to the construction site, from Sichuan, Hebei, Henan and Northeast China. These three teams signed an agreement with the contractor, Tangxian Huacheng company, to together build the Yuanmingyuan Flower Garden Villas (Third Stage).

However, the project never progressed smoothly as the workers had expected. Beginning on 2007-10-28, the work was shut down several times, the last time being 2008-05-27, and has not resumed since. For eight years, the contractor and the supplier (of building materials) have not once paid the wages owed to the workers, and the workers have been steadily waiting both for the work to resume and to receive their money, while living at the building site.

According to a Malianwa residential district official, tha parent company, Yuanmingyuan Flower Garden Villas Company, was in arrears in payments to the contractor (Tangxian Huacheng company), which could not pay the workers or buy materials. Therefore work was suspended, but the workers refused to leave. “This portable village is something which didn’t just spring up in one night and a day.”

Both sides disagree as to why the work was suspended. The workers say that Yuanmingyuan Flower Garden Villas Company did not pay its bills starting 2008-06-13. The company says that they actuallty began postponing payments at a later date, and the reason was that the other side sub-contracted work out to unknown parties who themselves sub-contracted the work out to others. This led to a lack of trust, in which they could not be sure the terms of the original contract were being followed, and for that reason they suspended the work.

Both sides have another point of conflict: the disagree on how to calculate the amount of money owed. Ms Wu, representative of the worker’s side, said that cost of building supplies, unpaid wages to workers, and salaries to those who have been watching over the construction site for 96 months, amounts to 35 million yuan ($ 5.5 million).

The representative for the developer said, thirty five villas had been completed at a cost to the company of 26 million yuan, and they previously paid the workers 3 million yuan. In addition, they provided the steel reinforcing rods at a cost of about 8 million yuan, but only a small amount of them were actually used in the construction, and afterwards the workers sold off the rest. If one considers these expenses, they don’t owe the workers anything. The other side is just pulling this 30 million yuan figure out of thin air.
In another wrinkle, in 2010 one supplier, a cement company, sued both the developer and the workers for unpaid receipts. However, according to the standard Beijing contract, the developer pays 30 percent up front but the complete amount only after the completion of the building. Since no building had been completed, and the corresponding certificates of inspection on the quality of cement provided were lacking, the court ruled that it was premature to expect full payment, rejecting the suit.

For eight years, the workers have been living in the portable building village. On the one hand, they waited to settle their accounts, on the other, they looked for new ways to make a living.


At dawn each day, the quiet portable building village becomes noisy and bustling, as residents prepare for the day’s work. Vender pushing food stalls head toward the market area, to serve simple breakfasts, or sell fruit and vegetables. Those who remain behind in the village are mostly the old and the young. Often the old people walk about with bags picking up scrap they can resell to supplement their household income, and the children follow behind and play around the trash heaps. “We are anxious to return home, but we cannot,” says the old father of the construction team leader. With tears in his eyes, he says, over and over, “We borrowed 3 million yuan.” Not to mention the interest on such a large sum. The old man cannot go back and face his relatives and friends, in eight years he has not once returned home.


When work first stopped in 2008, there were two rows of perfectly good portable buildings set up outside the construction site. The workers first moved into these. After the district government demolished these buildings, they had nowhere else to go, but were unwilling to leave the area without collecting their money, therefore for a while they all began living inside the construction site. At night they stayed in the rooms below ground in the unfinished buildings.

After one year, because the underground rooms were cold, gloomy, and wet, many old people and children began to have health problems. Gradually people began to put up portable buildings on the site, moving to a life above ground. Throughout 2013 portable buildings continued to rise up, ringing the construction site, By the end of 2014 portable buildings had reached a peak of prosperity. But the cost to put up a one room portable building was 7000 yuan, and a few families who could not afford that continued to live underground.

The housing problem was solved for most, but then, how to make a living? Some women raised chickens next to their “homes,” others grew corn and vegetables. Some they consumed themselves, some they sold in the market. The men did odd jobs when available or ran small businesses. Many were like Mr Zhang, from Sichuan. He had borrowed 1 million yuan, therefore he felt he couldn’t go home without waiting for his unpaid wages. However, his mother back home had no one to look after her, so her brought her to Beijing. In order to live, his mother gathered waste scraps and grew vegetables.

As with Mr Zhang, more families began bringing their aged relatives to Beijing, and the population living in the portable buildings increased. According to the workers team leader, at present there are 2000 living in the buildings. 80 percent of those are workers waiting to be paid, and 20 percent are tenants.

Looking around, old and young people are walking about, laundry is hanging out to dry from windows. The walls of the buildings are plastered with rental signs, for rooms to rent to live in from 300 to 600 yuan, or to use as storerooms. If the tenant customer wants to rent a new building, the landlord offers to erect one within three days. Because the rental rates for portable buildings are so cheap, this attracts migrant workers, as well as small tradesmen and peddlers.

The residential district office estimates there are some 500 rooms going for rent in the portable building village, although there are a number that are unregistered. One landlord claims to have 30 rooms to rent in one building, and if one calculates 500 yuan per room for a month, that is a pretty good income (15,000 yuan, approximately $2400).

There are two entrances to the portable building village, which means there are many people passing freely in and out. Add this to the density of the population living inside, and things are chaotic. People drag carts of scrap to a waste products processing facility inside the village. Crude toilet facilities are set up in one location, and next to that is a hole dug in the ground for trash. This spot has an awful smell.

According to the authorities responsible for this district, the portable buildings are illegal. The Malianwa district office said these plots of land have been mortgaged out to different parties multiple times, and the situation was very complex. Besides the dispute between the workers and the developer, there are other legal disputes, such that it is impossible to say who exactly has property rights over the land.

The Malianwa district office spokesperson said that the head of the development corporation had been out of the country for a long period, and had left several subordinates to deal with this matter. These persons have been in regular touch with the district office, and they recognize that they are in arrears and owe unpaid wages to the workers. The problem is, each side has its own version of what the figure should be. The district office has made an attempt to mediate the dispute, but a person with responsibility to negotiate for the developer has failed to appear.


According to the Malianwa district office, “the reason why there are illegal buildings on such a scale, is that when we demolish them, they simply put up new ones, and despite repeated bans this cannot be stopped.” It costs money to demolish, and for illegal buildings inside the construction zone, this should be the responsibility of the developer, but “in the present situation, the developer is not putting out any money, and this is a real problem.”

Many times residents in the vicinity have complained to the authorities, that the environment in the portable village is degraded, or that they have seen fires break out. The authorities say that many times they have gone in and cleaned up the area, in 2012-08-10 they demolished 70 homes, in 2014-05-08 they demolished 24 homes. But each time after a month had passed the workers had put up new portable buildings on those sites, and even expanded the area in which these buildings were erected, therefore they were unable to finish the job of clearing up the area.

Why haven’t all the illegal buildings been torn down? The Malianwa district office says it simply cannot afford to do it. The area filled with illegal buildings is large, the number of buildings is great,. “ To demolish a few buildings is not a problem, but here the area in question is ten thousand square meters. It costs 100 yuan for every square meter. To get started, we would need to have five million yuan ($780,000). Since this area is an unfinished construction project, it is stipulated to be the developer’s responsibility to put up the capital to demolish.”

The Malianwa district office spokesperson said that waiting for unpaid wages does not justify making a living by renting out illegal buildings. City Management is at present clearing out those people that live in the underground spaces under unfinished buildings, and sealing up the entrances. If there is a heavy rain, water could flood into those spaces, in which people are using fire, gas, and electricity. This would be a danger to them and to public safety. These spaces also provide a place for travelling venders and others engaged in illegal food reprocessing (treating old or spoiled food products with chemicals and reselling).

On 05-25 the Malianwa district set up a command post and began removing people from the underground spaces. By 05-28, people and the goods were out, and the entrances were sealed up with brick fragments.

The spokesperson said that if in the future all the illegal buildings in the portable building village are removed, the workers will be provided with dormitories to stay in, in order that they can remain at the site until their dispute is resolved. “We must give these workers a place to live.”

For now, it is unknown how long this situation will continue.

text: Jinghua Times reporters Zheng Yujia Han Tianbo Chang Xin
photos: Zhao Siheng

konjaku: in the photo below, there are rows of portable buildings in the foreground, and an apartment building complex in the background. The sign on top of the buildings says “Yuanmingyuang Garden [Villas].” This is probably an earlier stage of the construction project,  a stage which was successfully completed.1-16111501152MF.JPG










From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: