The campaign to graft a socialist paradise on to the overcrowded, grimy streets of Beijing before National Day moved into a final frenzy in September. Illegal advertising boards and neon signs were pulled down, walk-ways replaced and new rubbish bins installed.
Even legitimate businesses have been affected – mobile and pager systems were closed down to prevent them interfering with jets taking part in the fly-past and the city's biggest steel plant was closed for a fortnight in a bid to reduce pollution.
Smaller businesses have also been hit, especially those deemed an eyesore. In the first half of September, three green lorries bearing the distinctive red lettered ?WJ' of the People's Armed Police, shuddered to a stop outside a row of half abandoned shops to the east of Ritan Park.
The string of tiny glass-fronted outlets was already half wrecked – the police had simply arrived to finish the job. However, just days earlier these shops were humming with the usual flow of customers, mostly Russian traders who frequent the nearby markets.
As fatigued recruits jumped from the trucks and started clearing away desks and other fixtures from among the debris, one small pocket of capitalist endeavour in the socialist economy ceased to exist.
It was a scene repeated frequently as a sweltering summer in Beijing stretched into September.
The atmosphere in the city was fraught as the close weather and the city's toxic air but this year the whole country was bined with the clear-out of anything deemed illegal or intolerable.
The ritual cleansing campaign in the run-up to National Day is now a part of the calendar for local residents. This year, with the 50th anniversary of the People's Republic to be marked, the disruption was greater than had been seen for a generation.
Ten years ago the cycle of National Day extravagance a celebration every three years, a larger commemoration every five years and a big parade every decade – seemed to be disappearing. Ironically though, even as the Chinese government has talked of reducing the role of the state in the economy, the National Day hallmarks of construction boom and clampdown have grown in significance throughout the 1990s.
Completion of a series of massive projects were rushed through before this year's anniversary and dozens of projects were scheduled to start operations on the magic day. Usually it is Beijing and the politically-correct northern provinces which take the lead, but this year the whole country was obliged to join the party by spending large amounts on new infrastructure. Eight cities, including Shanghai and Guangzhou, were forced to make a list of works that would add up to a new look by National Day.
The Beijing municipal government says it spent Yn 110bn on 67 major projects, a sum equivalent to one-quarter of the country's entire construction spending between 1996 and 1998. The projects include a 335,000 sq metre extension to the airport, the renovation of Beijing No.l Department Store on Wangfujing, the construction of major arterial roadways and a Yn7.6bn subway. The government also dredged 30 rivers and 26 lakes in the city and ordered the demolition of 4m sq metres of illegally built and dilapidated housing.
The rush to finish as many glass and steel towers as possible will result in the completion of 11m sq metres of new space this year, almost 20 per cent more than was completed at the peak of economic cycle when GDP growth was double current levels.
Anyone who has passed through Beijing's Capital Airport building or sweltered for hours in a downtown traffic jam will know that there was a pressing need for some of the new projects. Yet the main motivation behind them was political, something which is frowned upon by economists as a distorting activity that in the long run undermines the efficiency of economic activity.
As growth slows, deflation is as persistent now as it was when the first fiscal stimulus package was announced. The central government's vice-minister of finance admitted as much in a recent interview, during which he said that the fiscal stimulus had not yet succeeded in jump starting the economy.
Return of old attitudes
The effects of each plan have tended to expire with the end of the additional expenditure, he said, creating a cycle in which higher levels of spending need to be repeated – not to boost the economy but to ensure that momentum is not lost.
The National Day celebration has wider implications than the perpetration of suspect investment patterns. It has also brought about a return of attitudes more in keeping with the country's past than its future.
The whole endeavour is reminiscent of the closed, reactionary aspects of Maoist China, which are surely incompatible with Beijing's aspiration to become a modern city. There has, for example, been a purge of Chinese migrants and a crackdown on foreign residents living outside designated areas.
Beijing has experienced an influx of foreign residents in the past decade. Out of a total foreign community numbering around 10,000, a significant minority hold jobs with overseas companies on local terms. As a result, they either cannot afford, or do not wish, to live in the unappealing diplomatic compounds or in the large housing complexes where foreign citizens are officially permitted to live. In many cases they live in equally modern apartment blocks built by local developers that tend to be much cheaper than the buildings built and run by joint ventures.
Such is the prevalence of this practice that most assume it has the tacit acceptance of the authorities. However in districts such as Maizidian, in the east of the city, the Public Security Bureau visited the homes of scoresof foreign residents in August and September. They told some to depart immediately, others to leave and not come back until after October 1, and forced others to embark on byzantine registration process.
These actions demonstrate the narrow compartmentalisation that the bureaucracy still applies to non-Chinese residents. Just because people do not fit the classic expatriate or diplomatic mould, it does not mean they are undesirable ?in fact many are playing an important part in the emergence of a modern business sector in the city.
This drive to get foreigners out of buildings in which they resided illegally was paralleled by a far larger operation to rid Beijing of migrant workers. A little explored aspect of China's modern mega-cities has been the evolution of whole migrant areas on their fringes. Beijing has several, ranging from nondescript districts where people from Hunan or Xinjiang have rented local apartments and opened restaurants, to ?favela?-type slums consisting of row upon row of breeze block housing – usually without adequate amenities or sanitation.
The government signalled its intentions in the spring when, almost overnight, it cleared an area known for its dozens of Muslim restaurants. The heart of a thriving community was destroyed. At the end of the summer the action against the Muslim area had become a generalised sweep on migrants. Despite the prejudices of local residents, migrants play a vital lubricating role in the local economy because they do the jobs that local ?hukou? holders refuse to touch.
The rubbish collectors
A recent study by China Perspectives on a ?Henan village' located close to Qinghua University found an ordered hierarchy among natives from this central province who had come to Beijing. The villagers started by collecting rubbish. Some had been doing it for many years, while others had moved on to work at the tip or create businesses related to waste disposal. A few moved up to become managers and some operated lorries that supplied paper mills from the tip, while others had bought handcarts to maximise the load they could carry back for sorting.
It is these freelance operators who have suffered most in the crackdown. Though economic activity continues, purges are disruptive. Functioning networks are broken up, capital is destroyed and those who have a store of savings may decide that further progress is too difficult and so they return home, the research found.
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