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“Race Against Time”: Beijing’s 40-Day ‘Safety’ Evacuation Campaign

In the aftermath of the big Daxing fire, Beijing’s 40-day safety evacuation campaign has become the talk of the day on Chinese social media.

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A week after a major fire killed 19 residents, people in Beijing’s Daxing area are facing a large-scale evacuation campaign – which is also spreading to other parts of the city. The mass evacuations are the talk of the day on Weibo and in WeChat groups.

Within a few days time, the houses and workshops in Daxing’s Xinjiancun (大兴的新建村), Beijing, have been cleared out. If it was not for the big fire that broke out there on November 18, killing 19 people and making headlines around the world, many would not have even known about this area in the southern outskirts of Beijing, just outside the 6th ring road.

In “The Non-Natives After the Fire: Where Do We Have to Go?” [大火之后的异乡人:我们该到哪里去?] journalist Wang Shan (王珊) at Sanlian Life Week, an influential Beijing-based weekly news magazine, reports on November 26 that the Daxing area is a place where thousands of migrant workers from all over China live together.

According to Sanlian Life Week‘s report, there were plans to vacate the area before, but the big Daxing fire accelerated the plans. Residents did not receive an official announcement about when the evacuation was taking place and in a “race against time” had to collect their belongings and leave their homes or workshops behind.

The large-scale evacuation campaign that was started in Daxing has now also been expanded to other areas of Beijing. Caixin News reports that the 40-day campaign by the municipal authorities is aimed at unlicensed developments to target “illegal structures” and “buildings with potential fire hazards,” but many people on Weibo and WeChat suggest the campaign is actually about driving unregistered, “low-end workers” out of the city – something that has been strongly refuted by Global Times and other state media outlets.

Beijing Daily reports that people evacuated out of one of the city’s many underground living areas said that they already felt like they were living in a “volcanic crater,” always worrying that this day would come.

On Chinese social media, the evictions have become a major topic of discussion. Photos of people leaving their homes are widely being shared on WeChat and Weibo, although many netizens complained that their posts on this subject were being “harmonized” (censored).

Via Weibo account ‘Everyday People’ (@每日人物)

“It is good that housing security is taken into consideration,” one netizen comments: “But why do people have to move out so hurriedly?”

Photo shared on Weibo by Jiemian Media (@界面).

After abandoning their homes, some people now seek temporary shelter in the city or other nearby places, and others are returning to their hometowns. According to ECNS, some individuals and organizations, including hostels, real-estate companies and restaurants, have reached to those who lost their homes and jobs by offering free accommodation, transportation or work opportunities. E-commerce giant JD.com is one of those companies. Many of the migrants and low-paid workers evicted from their homes were working as courier deliveries.

Although many people speak out against the evacuation campaign, there are also those who defend it: “A year ago people already knew the area had to be vacated, yet they did not move. They waited for people to die in a fire, and are now scolding authorities for having no humanity for clearing out the area.”

Fake news: netizens post pictures of the 2015 Nepal earthquake aftermath as if it were evicted workers in Beijing.

Others also warn netizens not to spread fake news, as one after the other posted photos of people lying on the streets at night, suggesting they were evacuated migrant workers who were freezing in the cold night. The photo, however, is from the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. Many commenters condemned the spread of the photos: “It is really low to compare yourself to these refugees,” some said.

Some netizens, unhappy with the campaign, shared a video of the 2008 Olympics song “Beijing Welcomes You.” One video, posted on November 26, was shared over 2500 times in a day, receiving thousands of likes. “Beijing still welcomes you,” some commented: “It just depends on where you come from.”

By Manya Koetse

Miranda Barnes contributed to this story.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, Sino-Japanese relations and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

China Environment

“Dreaming of Warmth” – China’s Anti-Coal Measures Leave Villagers out in the Cold

While coal heating is being banned, many villagers are left in the cold as they have no access to electric or gas heating systems.

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Chinese authorities are on a crusade against the burning of low-quality coal in the north of China this winter. The switch from coal to natural gas in the northern regions is meant to reduce air pollution. But for those with no access to gas or electric heating, the measures mean that they are left in the cold while temperatures are dropping.

Recent measures by the Chinese government that limit coal burning in the winter in northern China, while encouraging the use of natural gas, are aimed at improving the country’s air quality.

But as many people – mainly villagers and migrant workers – in China’s northern provinces such as Shanxi or Hebei still depend on coal for their residential heating, and with natural gas resources both scarce and increasingly costly, some households or schools simply have no option but to endure the cold.

 

“This is a predicament that northerners have not encountered before: people are prohibited to burn coal, but natural gas is expensive and scarce.”

 

On WeChat, an article about the situation by ‘Brother News’ (新闻哥), a well-read news blog, has been widely shared since December 6. The article was pulled offline on Thursday.

It’s December and winter is here. But the heating, that is often envied by many people in the South, has not arrived as scheduled. In Shaanxi, Shanxi, Hebei, and other regions in the North, people are caught in cold circumstances as they are unable to warm up [their houses].

This is a predicament that the northerners have not encountered before: people are prohibited to burn coal, while natural gas is expensive and often limited, which means that they cannot use it – even if they want to. Some people complain that they can’t sleep at night because of the freezing cold, while here in Beijing, some hundred kilometers away, my problem is that I can’t sleep at night because the central heating is too hot.”

The real situation at hand, which I learned about from dozens of readers, is really heartwrenching.”

In the article, ‘Brother News’ reports about a small kindergarten and primary school in a village in Shanxi where the use of coal heating is no longer allowed this winter – the coal heating systems were already demolished last summer. But the building, that only has three classrooms, cannot be supplied with gas heating. The use of electric heating is also impossible, as it trips off the electricity.

In order to stay warm, the school can only burn wood alcohol (methyl alcohol) as a last resort. “But that costs us about 400 to 600 dollars a day [3000-4000 yuan],” one of the kindergarten teachers said.

 

“I long for blue skies and smog-free air, but if it means that so many people have to freeze out there, I don’t want it.”

 

Teachers have started to take their children outside during school time, as it is warmer there than inside the building when the sun is out. But as the temperatures are dropping below 1 degree celsius, the situation is getting more difficult – especially for the teachers and the older children who also live in the on-campus dorm rooms.

For people who do have access to natural gas heating, the costs are often too high. If a household would be heated 24 hours a day, the minimal costs are 60-70 yuan (±9-10$) per day. Considering the monthly and seasonal costs for heating, people would have to spend thousands on heating, something which is simply unattainable for many ordinary people with a moderate monthly income.

On Weibo, one news account based in Binzhou (Shandong), writes that gas boilers have already been installed in some parts of the town, but that there is no gas yet. “And we also cannot burn coal, so now we just have to endure the cold.”

The ‘Brother News’ article concludes that people do want to support the transition from coal to gas that will reduce air pollution, but that it is difficult to support these measures when there are people suffering from the freezing cold: “I long for blue skies and smog-free air,” he writes: “But if it means that so many people have to sacrifice their warmth and freeze out there, I don’t want it.”

“I also don’t hope,” the article says: “that we have to rely on our dreams to keep ourselves warm.”

 

“Same thing, different era.”

 

Authorities have now responded to the freezing predicament facing many households and public buildings in northern China by allowing the use of coal to those who have no access to electric or gas heating.

In an “urgent notice” (“特急件”) the environment ministry said that “villages that have not converted to gas may still use coal for heating, or other substitute fuels,” as reported by Financial Times. The ministry also called for a “stable gas supply” to areas in the northern regions that had already converted to gas.

Image of coal stove shared on Weibo, text says: “Coal stoves are about to become history!”

Many people on Weibo are skeptical about the notice. “What about the coal furnaces that have already been taken away,” one person asks on Weibo: “Will they be brought back? (..) And what about the people who have already been freezing cold for a month, how can they be compensated?”

Other people also wonder about all the coal heating systems that have already been removed from homes and buildings, asking if people should now install new ones to keep themselves warm this winter.

There are more people on Weibo who criticize the anti-coal measures, comparing it to measures taken by the Chinese regime from 1958 to 1962. One netizen from Shanxi writes: “Isn’t this just like the people’s communes during the Great Leap Forward? In those days the pots and pans of people were smashed, and they were told to have their meals in the communes where they went hungry. Now you no longer allow farmers to have their coal furnaces and tell them to use gas while the installations are not properly set up, letting them freeze. It’s the same thing, it’s just a different era.”

There are also those who just care about the temperature in their room: “I have been without heating for five days. It 10 degrees [celsium] in my house. I’m slowly starting to freeze out here.”

For many, the urgent notice has not brought the warmth back yet. “The only way to keep myself warm is by trembling,” one netizen writes.

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Digital

China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection’s New Online Campaign: “Anti-Corruption” Gifs & Video

China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is propagating old ideas in new ways.

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Five years after launching its “Eight-point Regulation,” the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) turns to Weibo and WeChat to propagate its core values amongst Chinese netizens.

China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI/中纪委), the highest internal-control institution of the Communist Party of China that enforces internal regulations and combats corruption and wrongdoings in the Party, has been remarkably active on social media this week.

Not only did the CCDI issue a set of 16 GIF images for netizens to use; they also launched a new public ad campaign reiterating their “Eight-point Regulation” (八项规定), a set of regulations aimed at instilling more discipline among Party members.

The rules were issued on December 4th, 2012, and relate to how Party members “should improve their work style in eight aspects, focusing on rejecting extravagance and reducing bureaucratic visits, meetings and empty talk,” according to Xinhua (2012).

 
8 Rules, 16 Gifs
 

On December 3rd, the CCDI issued its set of 16 gifs. The images, that are meant to share as downloadable ‘stickers’ on WeChat, are all themed around regulations to fight corruption and malfeasance in the Party.

The images warn against things such as the private use of cars meant for official business, or using public money for festive dinners and drinking.

The WeChat stickers became a hot topic on Chinese social media this weekend, although many netizens did not necessarily appreciate the latest addition to the wide collection of WeChat gifs.

“You can use them among your 80 million [Party members], the commoners have no use for them!”, some wrote. “What are the normal people supposed to do with them?” others wondered. Many comments on the stickers were soon taken offline.

 
“No Need to Spend Your Free Nights at Social Parties”
 

The CCDI is increasingly using digital media to communicate its core values to a large online audience. On Monday, Chinese state media also shared a short public ad campaign video by the CCDI.

It reflects on how the “Eight-point Regulation” have “changed people’s lives.”

The introduction text says:

You do not have to spend your after work hours on social events – coming home after drinking alcohol to find your child and wife fast asleep, leaving nobody to talk to. You do not have to spend you half-monthly wages on gifts to people who you barely even know. You do not have to surrender to the unwritten rules. In five years, the eight provisions have changed China – changing the lives of you and me.”

The voice-over in the video suggests that people now have more time to read books, work out, and spend time with family. The campaign’s main message is: “You can, but you don’t have to.”

Although the video was praised by some, there were also many who said its message might fall on deaf ears: “These ‘unwritten rules’ are not about Chinese bureaucracy, they are about Chinese culture,” some pointed out. “If you don’t give presents, you won’t succeed.”

 
Propaganda 3.0
 

Over the past few years, Chinese authorities are increasingly using social media as an important channel to share propaganda. This is often done in creative ways.

Information about important events and state visits of Chinese president Xi Jinping, for example, is often propagated online by means of a gif or short animated film, with Xi as a cartoon figure.

‘Cartoon commentary’ from China Daily 2016: Xi’s Europe-Asia Tour.

Both the One Belt, One Road initiative and the 19th Party Congress saw many gifs, cartoon, videos, rap songs, and even online mobile games that conveyed the government’s main message on core Party aims and values.

With the Chinese online population growing every day, and a great majority of this online population using WeChat and Weibo for daily communication and news-checking, social media have become an effective channel for propaganda in China today.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2017

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