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Homeless expelled in Beijing `cleanup’

August 20, 1990

Article from: Chicago Sun-Times
Article date: August 20, 1990
Author: Guy Dinmore

BEIJING The homeless and hungry, seen as a blight on China’s capital, say they are being rounded up and hounded out in a campaign to beautify the city for next month’s Asian Games.

In dusty lanes near Yongdingmen railway station, they gathered as usual over the weekend with their meager bundles, brewing tea on fires made from garbage. “We make an ugly sight,” said one woman. “The authorities don’t want you foreigners to see us.” Nearby, posters proclaimed the Games’ official slogan: “Unity, friendship, progress.”

Some of the homeless are not just destitute. They have come to Beijing from distant parts with a purpose: to petition the authorities against miscarriages of justice. The Supreme Court has a reception center near the railway station that deals with their complaints, ranging from false criminal charges to victimization under political campaigns long gone by. But justice comes slowly, and many petitioners, who have nothing to return to, beg to survive. Before being ejected from Beijing, the petitioners said, they were herded into squalid detention centers where there was barely space to sleep on the floor.

“There were about 500 women inside. I don’t know how many men,” said one woman who managed to return to Beijing. Petitioners estimated that several hundred of them have been expelled from the city recently.

Migration into urban areas is curbed, and after a decade of liberalizing economic reforms, the communist system manages to ensure a modicum standard of living for most of the 1.1 billion Chinese.Compared to other teeming cities in the developing countries of Asia, Beijing has relatively few homeless. But, just a month away from hosting China’s first-ever major international event, the hard-line leaders of Beijing are engaged in a frenzied campaign to beautify a city that has lost most of its former glory and mystique.

A crackdown on the “three crimes of chaos” – spitting, littering and dumping – has gripped the city.

“It’s very good. I heartily support the Asian Games . . . and the leadership of the Communist Party,” a 70-year-old retired worker said.

Many younger people, however, see the $530 million gala as a costly propaganda exercise.

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