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Hard Living in Beijing
Summary:People coming to Beijing to work and pursue their dreams are increasingly meeting with insurmountable frustration. The slowing economy, rising living costs and government policies that disadvantage residents without a Beijing Hukou are combining to see an unprecedented reduction in the city’s migrant population.


By Xie Liangbing (
Issue 585, Sept 3, 2012
Nation, page 12
Translated by Zhu Na
Original article:

This is an extended translation from this week's edition of The Economic Observer, for more highlights from the EO print edition, click here.

Wang Hong (王虹) came to Beijing from southern China fresh after graduation to work as an intern at a fashion magazine. She hoped she could stay in the city to follow her dreams, but realized very soon how difficult that would be. Between the high rent and the stressful commute on Beijing’s complicated subway system, she got discouraged.

Rent for a room around the outer fifth ring road runs at about 800-1000 yuan per month. But Wang, who grew up in a nice environment, says the living conditions are terrible. On top of that, she sometimes needs to work until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning.  For safety reasons, she decided to share an apartment close to her workplace in the central business district and pay 2,300 yuan per month.

For a fresh graduate still doing an internship, such rent could only be afforded with help from her parents. One month after arriving, Wang missed home and still hadn’t adapted to her new Beijing life.

“I certainly don’t want to stay in Beijing anymore,” she said. “Once the internship ends, I’ll go back.”

Over the past two years, high rent and the restrictions on purchasing property and cars for people without a Beijing Hukou [household registration] have prompted many out-of-towners to leave the city. Even those young people who came to Beijing to pursue their dreams have often had to re-think their choices.

Recently, data released by the Beijing Municipal Statistics Bureau showed that in 2011, the city's temporary resident population (暂住人口) was 8.3 million - 600,000 less than in 2010. This was the first annual decline since Beijing started keeping detailed data.

Professor Lu Jiehua (陆杰华) from the Institute of Population Research at Peking University said that the data came from a public security department, which counts temporary residents based on the number of permits issued.

“Many people who move to Beijing may not apply for temporary residence permits,” he said. “Therefore the data isn’t as accurate as the sixth population census.”

Beijing’s overall population still continued to grow in 2011, officially surpassing 20 million people for the first time.

In the past ten years, the number of temporary residents increased by an average of 400,000 people annually, which has put Beijing under pressure. As early as 2007 the city had already surpassed the population size approved by the State Council.

Population control was officially put forward by the city in 2010. The education, healthcare, transportation and civil affairs departments were required to take population control into consideration when formulating policies. All counties and districts were also required to pay attention to population size, structure and layout.

Some people who have a Beijing Hukou living in old town areas of Dongcheng and Xicheng Districts will have to move out. According to the plan, by 2020, nearly 700,000 people will be transferred to Beijing’s suburbs. The city has allowed Dongcheng District to build replacement homes in Chaoyang and Tongzhou.

The four districts of Chaoyang, Fengtai, Shijingshan and Haidian also have population control targets. Chaoyang, for example, will try to keep its population below 4 million people within the next five years.

Beijing has also adopted administrative measures to manage the floating population, which have contributed to the 600,000 person decline.

Wang Qiyan (王琪延), an economics professor from Renmin University, said this decline is very rare. According to his analysis, Beijing's economic growth has slowed and demand for migrant workers has fallen.  This economic slowdown has also caused incomes to fall and the cost of living to increase, which has also encouraged many to leave the capital. In addition, various policies that restrict non-permanent residents from purchasing property and cars have contributed to the population shift.

“Control population through occupations (以业控人) is one of the measures in Beijing’s population control efforts. Lu Jiehua thinks that to a certain extent this measure affected the population layout and is one of the reasons for the migrant population reduction.

For example, Xicheng District aims to develop the financial industry, which attracts high-end human resources. The upgrading of the regional economy has made the floating population working in the low-end service industry reduce accordingly. But he believes that the impact on population through adjustment of the economic structure won’t be immediate.

Since 2010, Beijing has started to implement a series of administrative measures to control population, which has had some short term effects.

In Feb 2011, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development instituted regulation on commercial home rental management, which stipulated that underground storage rooms couldn’t be rented as residential units. In August of the same year, Beijing also banned basements from being rented out.

Wang Yongxin (王永新), head of the Beijing Civil Defense Bureau has said that starting from 2011, Beijing would spend 6-12 months clearing out people living in these basements. It’s estimated that the policy will uproot 1 million people.

Data from HomeLink shows that Beijing’s rental market prices had the largest increase in 2011, with the average monthly rent at 3,280 yuan - an increase of 13 percent compared to 2010. And the growth has continued in 2012.

On May 9, Beijing issued the notice that the average per-capita living space in rental homes cannot be less than five square meters and that no more than two people can live in a bedroom.

Wuyue Sanren (五岳散人 – a pseudonym), a well-known online commentator, said in an article that the migrant population reduction trend will continue for the next few years. With the economic situation increasingly grim, people’s impulse to escape from Beijing will become even stronger.

According to Anbound, a research-oriented enterprise, Beijing’s population control has caused obvious pressure on the city’s economy. Currently, there are about 1.8 million people working in Beijing’s manufacturing industry, of which 40 percent are migrants.

Anbound believes that without a steady migrant population working in the service industry -especially in restaurants, construction, entertainment, retail, and real estate - the normal operation of Beijing may encounter problems. If the migrant population is controlled too forcefully, then the city will pay a huge economic price.

In fact, the Beijing municipal government has also noticed the impact brought by population control. In the 2012 government work report, the phrase “population control” - which has been used for many years - disappeared and was replaced by “population service management.”

Lu Jiehua said that regarding the population problem, the Beijing municipal government has started to move in the direction of reducing administrative measures and shifting toward service management.

In 2007, Beijing put forward the idea of a residence card system that would be beneficial to migrant workers by giving them rights similar to Beijing residents, but until now it hasn’t been launched.

Mao Shoulong (毛寿龙), a public administration professor from Renmin University, said that shifting from “management” to “service” and treating the migrant population as residents is a nice wish for government authorities. But due to the reality of the city’s population capacity, the government has to adopt some administrative measures to control population through tax and social security schemes. “For at least some period of time, this will be the case,” he said.



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