But many others did not want to leave their land. By 2008, the government’s offer had met limited success, with only half the population choosing to move. Already, though, government propaganda was extolling Huaming as a success, and officials planned to feature it at the world’s fair in two years’ time.
“They said if we didn’t move, it would affect the World Expo,” said Jia Qiufu, 69, a former resident of Guanzhuang Village. “They said it had to happen by 2009 because the Expo was the next year.”
The local government used intense pressure to force farmers out of their villages. It tore up roads and cut electricity and water. Even so, thousands stayed on. As a final measure, the schoolhouses — one in each village — were demolished. With no utilities and no way to educate their children, most farmers capitulated and moved to town.
Signs of social dysfunction abound. Young people, who while away their days in Internet cafes or pool halls, say that only a small fraction of them have jobs. The elderly are forced to take menial work to make ends meet. Neighborhood and family structures have been damaged.
Most worrying are the suicides, which local residents say have become an all-too-familiar sign of despair.
The situation in these new towns contrasts with the makeshift housing where other migrants live. Many of those are created by farmers who chose to leave their land for jobs in the city. Although cramped and messy, they are full of vitality and upward mobility, said Biao Xiang, a social anthropologist at Oxford University who has studied migrant communities.
“These migrant neighborhoods in big cities are often called slums, but it’s the new resettlement communities that will be harder to revive, partly because they are not related to any productive economic activity,” Professor Xiang said.