Beijing, China, schoolkids
A group of Chinese children have a class in a park in Beijing. Source: Shutterstock

In what is called its most aggressive crackdown in history, Beijing is on a campaign to kick out poor, rural migrants who have, over the years, increasingly moved into the city’s outskirts by the thousands.

Authorities are now condemning buildings as unsafe, evicting thousands and levelling off neighbourhoods, the New York Times reported. This includes the dozens of schools that serve migrant families and in the process, cutting off access to decent education for thousands of children.

Truck driver Ding Fei, whose 7-year-old daughter was studying in one such school, has been evicted from homes twice since last month. His daughter’s school was recently shut down for being unsafe and illegal, marked for demolition.

“My Chinese dream is for my family to live a happy and healthy life, without having to worry about whether my children can attend school,” Ding said.

“The government simply doesn’t want us here anymore.”

Shijingshan Huangzhuang School in southern Beijing, which serves up to 1,500 students, has been ordered to close next month.

Sheng Ying, who teaches at the school said: “It’s cruel. The children see demolitions all around them. We have to calm them down and tell them our school can survive.”

A second-grader at the school, Li Hongbo, says his parents are unemployed and facing eviction. Li worries that he will have to return to his hometown, saying “I’ll miss my friends here.”

As more Chinese migrate from rural to urban areas, cities’ infrastructure and social services had grown increasingly strained. In response, city authorities mostly restrict benefits such as access to affordable health care and public schools to longtime residents.

The debris of demolished low-cost dwellings is seen through an empty house near apartment blocks under construction at a village, which is mainly inhabited by migrant workers, in Tongzhou district of Beijing, China. Source: Reuters/Jason Lee

This latest crackdown, however, crushes dreams like Ding’s for as many as 15,000 children attending dozens of schools which have been shut down this year, as estimated by experts. While some schools, such as Yingbo, a kindergarten in northern Beijing, has reopened in other parts of Beijing, educators say many families have returned to their hometowns or withdrawn their children from classes entirely.

Kam Wing Chan, a professor at the University of Washington who studies China’s rural-urban divide said:

“You are basically destroying a whole generation of children.”

These children will likely grow up in a segregated society and relegated to the same “poorly paid, insecure, and often hazardous jobs their parents are limited to” according to Geoffrey Crothall, the communications director for Hong Kong-based advocacy group China Labour Bulletin.

“This only reinforces their feelings of resentment and social exclusion,” Crothall said.

Laborers from the countryside and their children aren’t the only ones being driven out. The campaign is also hurting the educated white-collar migrant workers in the city’s new economy of tech, finance and hospitality. These ambitious and young college graduates have moved to Beijing in search of better lives and better jobs, but are treated as second-class citizens as the government gives more benefits such as housing, schools and healthcare to its permanent residents.

Si Ruomu is a 28-year-old programmer from northern China who studied computer science in New Zealand. The police had recently arrived at his apartment at southeastern Beijing to order him and hundreds of others vacate within 48 hours.

“One minute you’re drinking espressos, the next you’re being evicted,” said Si.

“I’m starting to think whether people like me have a future in Beijing.”

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