Sieren′s China: Useful but illegal | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 28.04.2017
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Sieren's China: Useful but illegal

The Beijing authorities are cracking down on illegal shops, tearing down makeshift structures and forcing some small entrepreneurs to leave town. DW’s Frank Sieren has more:

My greengrocer disappeared from one day to the next. His stand vanished into thin air and was replaced by a brick wall and some plants. And he is not the only one. The hairdresser also disappeared, as did a few snack bars. All of them had worked out of ground floor apartments or set up shop in front of the buildings. The stands and kiosks might have been illegal and unacceptable in many parts of the world - including in Germany - but they also added to Beijing's charm.

It had become clear over the past few months that the authorities were going to clamp down, but this did not prevent many of the small entrepreneurs from working until the very last minute. Then the demolition teams turned up with their bulldozers and the structures were replaced by brick walls. One of the reasons given is safety - the makeshift structures threatened the buildings, which in any case are residential and not to be used for commercial purposes.

Mass demolition

The city authorities have counted some 9,000 illegal structures in three districts of Beijing, against which they are now taking action. The idea is to return the buildings to their former order.

Frank Sieren *PROVISORISCH* (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Tirl)

DW's Frank Sieren

But the people have mixed feelings towards the demolition. For some, it was very practical to have a store or place to eat downstairs. Mr. Huang owns a massage salon that he runs from his own ground floor apartment. "We've been here for over 10 years," he says. "If people hadn't wanted us, we wouldn't have been allowed to build it. There's less and less space in Beijing but I own my flat and I'm not going to give up so easily."

The authorities have now bricked up the entrance, which means that Mr. Huang's customers now have to make their way through the dark courtyard - his loyal customers do not mind, but what about casual passers-by?

Huang is still one of the lucky ones, since he owns his flat. Last year, the authorities razed 2.7 million square meters of illegal structures to the ground. This year, they plan to demolish 3.6 million square meters. Moreover, many small businesses had only rented space and cannot afford to move elsewhere. They are being forced to leave the center, where the number of inhabitants has decreased by 353,000 in the past year.

Capping the population

Nonetheless, there is still a population of almost 22 million. The government is hoping to cap it at 23 million as part of its "Jing-Jin-Ji" project, named after the capital's three neighboring provinces - Jing, Tianjin and Hebei. The idea is to make these into one region and to transfer some of the secondary government offices from the center.

But while the idea is to develop Beijing into a center of politics, culture, technology, finance and services, the dreams and fates of small entrepreneurs are likely to suffer. Moreover, it will become much more difficult for people in China's rural areas to move to the capital and try their luck. The Chinese dream - at least for the present - seems to be coming to an end.

Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for over 20 years.

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