Two Hidden Beijings

New census figures show that migrants make up a third of Beijing’s population, but it’s still rare to see an in-depth investigation into the lives of the city’s different migrant communities. Two features in two Chinese magazines published last week provide just that.

The first is in Lens, the photographic supplement that comes with Caijing magazine, which ran a story about drug abuse amongst Beijing’s Uighur migrants. According to the article, migration from Xinjiang to Beijing started in the 80s, and was originally centered in the Weigongcun and Ganjiakou neighbourhoods (both in Haidian, Beijing’s university district) which became Beijing’s two ‘uighur towns’. Migrants would start with a small kebab stand before moving up to running a restaurant. In late nighties, because of the demolition of some uighur areas, the community moved to new locations near to Beijing west railway station and the southern Daxing district.

One Xinjiang migrant returns to the site of his demolished home

Heroin use only became possible in the community after a certain level of wealth was achieved, and in the early 90s (when growth rates passed 14% annually) a lot of people got rich fast. ‘At that time, doing drugs in the business community was like doing drugs is now in the performing arts community, a mark of identity’, said one (Han Chinese) former drug addict. Lack of awareness of the dangers of drug use amongst the generation which grew up during the cultural revolution, and also the lack of drug education provided in minority languages. contributed to the increase in drug use. ‘Every time someone died, we’d go to the dedicated Hui minority graveyard west of the fifth ring road to see them’, one former Xinjiang resident said.

This Xianjiang woman's children both died as a result of drug use, but she chooses to stay in Beijing, finding life in her hometown boring. 'Whenever she wen't back, she'd go on to her neighbours about life in Beijing'

The article describes a community for recovering drug addicts, built south of Beijing’s fifth ring road, by former Renmin university law student. The community is home to 300 people, and one third are long term drug addicts. The center provides needle exchange, methadone treatment, training and education, and also receives regular visits from local authorities who carry out drug-urine tests. Similar facilities exist in the Panjiayuan, Weigongcun, and Fengtai areas of Beijing. Those living in the community can make a living from running restaurants and doing business, but receiving drug treatment isn’t always easy. ‘We say that methadone turns a married couples into brother and sister, going to bed and just sleeping, with no sexlife at all’, one of the residents says.

next: the birthday parties of Sichuanese factory bosses.

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