- Associated Press - Thursday, July 15, 2010

BEIJING

The government calls it “sealed management”: China’s capital has started gating and locking some of its lower-income neighborhoods overnight, with police or security checking identification papers around the clock in a throwback to an older style of control.

It’s Beijing’s latest effort to reduce rising crime, often blamed on the millions of rural Chinese migrating to cities for work. The capital’s Communist Party secretary wants the approach promoted citywide.

But some state media and experts say the move not only looks bad, but imposes another layer of control on the already stigmatized, vulnerable migrants.


So far, gates have sealed off 16 villages in the sprawling southern suburbs, where migrants are attracted to cheaper rents and in some villages outnumber permanent residents 10 to 1.

“In some ways, this is like the conflict between Americans and illegal immigrants in the States. The local residents feel threatened by the influx of migrants,” e-mailed Huang Youqin, an associate professor of geography at the University at Albany, State University of New York, who has studied gating and political control in China. “The risk is that the government can control people’s private life if it wants to.”

The gated villages are the latest indignity for China’s migrant workers, who already face limited access to schooling and government services and routinely are blamed by city folk for rising crime. Used to the hardship of the farm and the lack of privilege, migrants seem to be taking the new controls in their stride.

Jia Yangui said he accepts the new system as a trade-off for escaping farm work in the northern province of Shanxi. He arrived in Beijing less than two months ago and lives with a relative in one of the gated villages, Dashengzhuang. He sells oily pancakes just inside one of the gates.

“Anyway, it’s not as strict as before, when we migrants would be detained on the way to the toilet,” said Mr. Jia’s relative, a middle-aged woman who gave her family name as Zheng.

“Sealed management” looks like this: Gates are placed at the street and alley entrances to the villages, which are collections of walled compounds sprinkled with shops and outdoor vendors. The gates are locked between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. except for one main entrance manned by security guards or police, there to check identification papers. Security guards roam the villages by day.

“Closing up the village benefits everyone,” read one banner that was put up when the first, permanent gated village was introduced in April.

But some Chinese question whether problems arising from the growing gap between the country’s rich and poor can be fixed with locks and surveillance cameras.

“It’s a ridiculous idea!” said Li Wenhua, who does private welfare work with migrant workers in Beijing. “This is definitely not a good long-term strategy. The government should dig up the in-depth causes of crime and improve basic public services such as education and health care to these people.”

Crime has been rising steadily over the past two decades, as China moved from state planning to free markets and Chinese once locked into set jobs began moving around the country for work. Violent crime in China jumped 10 percent last year, with 5.3 million reported cases of homicide, robbery and rape, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences reported in February.

“Sealed management” was born in the village of Laosanyu during the Beijing Olympics in 2008, when the government was eager to control its migrant population. The village used it again during the sensitive 60th anniversary of communist China last year. Officials then reported the idea to township officials, who decided to make the practice permanent this year.

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