The week of low-end population


This week, for a few days, you could go to Chinese websites and buy hoodies emblazoned with the characters 低端人口 dī duān rénkǒu — literally, “low-end population.” This refers to migrant workers and the displaced lumpenproletariat who comprise the underclass of cities like Beijing.

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The low-end population was the talk of China’s capital this week, as intellectuals and petite bourgeoisie alike found themselves shocked by the swift and thorough purge of tens of thousands of migrants who work in factories, deliver food and online purchases, and operate informal businesses of every kind.

The purge is part of a long-term plan to reduce the population of Beijing, develop the economies of surrounding areas, reduce traffic congestion, and clean up the center of the city. All of these aims make sense. But what was shocking was that the Beijing authorities used a deadly fire on November 18 that killed 19 people as a reason for harsh safety inspections, and evictions with just a couple of days’ notice. Outrage on the internet was suppressed with very thorough censorship.

But it’s not only the low-end population of Beijing who felt low-end this week: Allegations of abuses at an expensive Beijing kindergarten spread rapidly across the country, just weeks after similar news about a daycare center provided at the Shanghai offices of China’s leading travel booking website.

This new child abuse scandal took place at a daycare center operated by RYB Education, a New York Stock Exchange–listed company that runs about 500 kindergartens directly and 1,300 affiliated learning centers in more than 300 cities and towns across the country. One of the more chilling claims made by some parents about the kindergarten is that they found needle marks on their children’s arms, and that teachers had fed the children “white pills.”

The alleged abuses provoked an internet firestorm of fury from urban Chinese, which is very understandable — the last apartment building in which I lived in Beijing housed an expensive kindergarten, which one day gave food poisoning to all of its charges, whose parents were paying $1,500 (10,000 yuan) a month for the privilege. Your kid being abused at school: It’s every parent’s nightmare.

Even worse, just as with the migrant evictions, strong censorship kicked into gear. The police, whose initial, vague statements and arrest of one teacher inflamed much of the fury, issued clarifying statements. But the explanations included that the arrested teacher had used needles to “instruct” the children who failed to follow her orders to sleep, and noted that surveillance camera footage was missing because of a damaged hard drive. None of this inspired confidence among China’s urban middle class, who found themselves feeling as vulnerable to the whims of their rulers as the people labeled “low-end.”

For this week at least, a little of the gloss has gone from the China Dream. The last time the internet conversation in China felt this way to me was in 2011, after the Wenzhou high-speed train crash. But this is the first time the mood, online at least, has felt similar under Xi Jinping’s tenure.

Both news stories somehow recall a science fiction story and an online essay that went viral and was censored:

There links to stories on SupChina about the kindergarten scandal, the migrant worker evictions, and other important stories from the past week below. Do let me know what you think of this format.

Migrant evictions

Kindergarten abuse scandal

LGBT issues and dodgy science?

Sexual harassment

U.S.-China trade tensions

Taiwanese activist convicted of subversion

Important stories that broke on Friday, December 1

Elite politics — Xi Jinping’s right hand man

Wang Qishan still attending top Communist Party meetings and in line for China’s vice-presidency

“Wang, 69, left the Politburo Standing Committee in the reshuffle at the party’s five-yearly national congress in October.”

Mobile phones

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi eyes 2018 stock market listing / The Information (paywall)

Xiaomi, “one of the world’s biggest smartphone makers, is talking to bankers about an initial public offering as early as the second half of next year.” Xiaomi was valued at around $46 billion in its last fundraising round in 2014.

Fire in Tianjin

Skyscraper fire kills 10 in northern Chinese city of Tianjin / Reuters

Ethiopia: Attack on Chinese-run oilfield

Ethnic Somali rebels kill 74 at Chinese oilfield in Ethiopia / The Guardian

“Rebels stormed a Chinese-run oilfield in eastern Ethiopia yesterday, killing 74 workers and destroying the facility… The Ogaden National Liberation Front, an ethnic Somali group that has fought alongside insurgents in Somalia, also kidnapped seven Chinese workers.”


Hundreds of fossilized Pterosaur eggs uncovered in China / NYT (paywall)