Inside China's 'scrap village'

Hidden deep in alleyways on the outskirts of Beijing is Dong Xiao Kou village, also known as China's "scrap village".

From plastic to metal, villagers collect many different kinds of reusable material from rubbish in all corners of the city.

The scrap trade began to flourish in Dong Xiao Kou almost two decades ago.

Most of the collectors are city scavengers carrying out their livelihood on tricycles. Those who are better-off drive big trucks to bring in their scrap,

Most villagers in Dong Xiao Kou are from Henan, China's most populous and one of its poorest provinces. Many made good money in Beijing a few years ago but business has been bleak since then.

Some villagers expanded their yards to hold more scrap, built better houses and bought cars. Others still live in makeshift homes made of tin and clip wood.

The government started a project to vacate Dong Xiao Kou this summer to make space for cleaner streets and more properties.

Many factories processing scrap were moved but other villagers in the same trade are still waiting to hear when they will be asked to relocate.

Many still haven't made plans to cope. Ms Liu, 43, a villager from Henan, tells us her story.

"My husband is a scrap collector. We live here in Dong Xiao Kou village because it's much cheaper than the city. Business is not so good now, and everything is becoming more expensive.

"I have two children. The older one is 19 years old. She quit high school and came to Beijing, because she always gets car sick during the long commute. Now she works for a nearby Carrefour Supermarket in Beijing.

"I'm not happy about my family's current situation. We are too poor. We don't even have a furnace. It's ice cold in the house but we don't have any other choice. We have to be here to make a living."

Another villager Mr Yan, 50, comes from Hebei province.

"I came to Beijing in the 90s, and my job now is to compress the metal scrap into cubes."

"I am here to make money, but sometimes I don't make enough to smoke cigarettes. I used to smoke three packs a day. I have two children. They are both grown up now, but I don't want to retire yet.

"You know people from the countryside like me can't get used to being idle, so I will keep working here."

Mr Tang, another villager, said: "I came to Beijing more than 10 years ago, and I started my metal recycling business three years ago. The price of metal keeps falling."

"Look, I don't even have much going on here. The toughest thing about living here is that I know the moment I stop working, my family won't have food on the table.

"If they decide to move this village, I will go back to my hometown and raise my children there."

Zhang Bang Long, a villager from Shandong province, told us:

"I first came to Beijing when I was 17 and now I'm 35 years old. I run a wood business. When I first came here, it was hard to find my place in this village. Sometimes the local mafia would tear away my residence permit to stop me from stealing their business.

"If this village has to be moved, I will find another space to do my business. It's better than farming back home.

"Working in Beijing is easier. I've got my own truck and my own car. I can make tens of thousands of yuan a year and that's really not so bad."

Henan villager Ms Wang, 55, said: "All of my grandchildren are born here in Beijing. In 2007 and 2008, we were doing very well, because the economy was strong. Now it's pretty bad. We are all just making ends meet here.

Beijing never felt like home. Today we live in one place, and tomorrow we have to move. To get my grandchildren to school, we need this and that certificate. It's a lot of trouble.

After a few more years, I'm going back to my hometown and raise my grandchildren there."

Mr Wei, a 29-year-old villager from Hebei, said: "I'm a cleaner. I clean the garbage here every day.

"I didn't go into the scrap trade because when I came here, no one showed me the ropes. It doesn't matter whether I like my job or not, or where I live. It's all the same.

"I'm not dating anyone here. It's hard. I want to make some money, and meet someone back home.

"Ultimately, I need to go home as well because if I have any children, they won't be able to go to school here. There are too many talented people here. I can't stay here forever."

Ms Zhou, a villager from Henan:

"I'm in the plastics trade. My children go to school in my hometown because they can't get the permit to be educated here.

"I have to stay here, because my little business keeps us going. If I go back to my hometown, my children cannot be fed.

"The toughest part of my job is endless chores to do every day from dawn to dusk. It's not easy."

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