China has ordered its media to delete any "negative comments" on the mass evictions of low-paid, out-of-town migrants from Beijing, under the aegis of a buildings safety review.
"Websites must immediately delete any feature pages regarding the clear-out [of people from] unlicensed premises in Beijing," a leaked directive from the ruling Chinese Communist Party's propaganda department orders.
"Interactive environments are to be tightly controlled, and no content is to be republished or retweeted," the directive, published online by the U.S.-based China Digital Times news site, said. "All negative comments are to be resolutely deleted."
Print media have meanwhile been ordered to focus on "highlighting government policy," and to avoid "selecting their own topics" for coverage, it said.
"Media from other parts of China are not allowed to publish articles or commentary on this topic," it said.
Activists estimate that at least 100,000 people have been forced out of the city, some by the authorities switching off their heating so they can’t stay warm.
But official statistics are unavailable, and the true figure may be much higher, as Beijing seeks to cap its population at 23 million by 2020 and demolish 40 million square meters of illegal structures.
State media have reported a number of temporary assistance and accommodation initiatives in recent days set up by local government departments in a bid to provide shelter for huge numbers of migrant workers suddenly ordered out of "substandard" accommodations onto the streets in sub-zero temperatures.
Beijing-based artist and rights activist Hua Yong, who has been visiting the areas worst-hit by the eviction drive, said none of the evictees he spoke to had received any emergency help, however.
"None of the people I spoke to had received any assistance," Hua said on Wednesday, after spending three days with evictees. "I spoke to more than 20 migrant workers on Nov. 25 and 26."
"Now there are hardly any people from out of town around; you can't find them," he said. "There was this place called Xinjiancun where there was a high concentration of migrant workers; everyone I spoke to there said there were 100,000 of them, but that figure might not be very accurate."
Hua said the evictions are unlikely to benefit anyone, despite official rhetoric about restructuring the city's economy so everyone's income is in the middle-to-high bracket.
"There are no winners in this situation," he said. "Public trust in the township government has been damaged, the migrant workers are homeless in the freezing cold, and local people have lost a source of income ... a lot of them are struggling to get by on 2,000 yuan (U.S. $300) a year per person."
A migrant worker currently in the eastern city of Hangzhou said many migrants, who hail from poverty-stricken rural areas of China, are now worried that other major cities will follow Beijing's lead, and start targeting their "low-income population."
"I'm not from here, and I'm thinking, what if the Hangzhou city government comes out with a document like the one issued in Beijing; where would I go then?" he said.
"I really don't know what I would do ... this directive was issued in Beijing, but I think a lot of people in other places are going to be feeling very scared now, too," he said.
A volunteer surnamed Wang said local rents for temporary accommodation are skyrocketing in response to sudden demand.
"One minute they are offering their apartment at 500 yuan (U.S. $75), and an hour later, it's gone up to 800 yuan (U.S. $120)," Wang said. "That's the sort of inflation we're talking about."
"Those who can't afford those prices have no option but to go back to their hometowns, but a lot of them have jobs here, so what are they supposed to do?"
A volunteer surnamed He said some of the migrants had managed to find alternative accommodation in spite of being evicted at very short notice.
"They move into another place, but it's sure to be far more expensive than the place they were in before," she said. "They all had to move, and find somewhere new to live."
China's migrant population, drawn to cities and pushed out of poorer areas by mass layoffs and rural land grabs since the 1990s, has risen in recent years to more than 200 million, nearly one-fifth of the population.
The majority of migrant workers who flock to bigger cities in search of manual labor in factories and on construction sites are from a farming background.
But their search for a better life for themselves and their families is hampered by a discriminatory "household registration," or hukou, system that limits access to services like healthcare and education to natives of a given area.
The resident population of Beijing has swelled by 59 percent since the start of the century, with an increase of 56 percent reported by neighboring Tianjin and a 50 percent rise in Shanghai.
The majority of migrants hail from the central provinces of Henan, Anhui and Hunan, while their top destinations are the rich coastal provinces of Guangdong, Zhejiang and Jiangsu, according to a map published this year by the search engine and online encyclopedia Baidu.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.