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Healing the scars of a city’s shanty town

Updated: Feb 22,2015 5:20 PM

Li Zhongyi, 80, from Xiyu village, Hongqiao district, Tianjin municipality is embracing Spring Festival with a mood very different from previous years - she is preparing to bid farewell to the shanty town where she has lived for more than half a century.

During the past 14 months, Li has twice met with Premier Li Keqiang. The first time was on December 27, 2013 when the Premier promised her a new house with a kitchen, washroom and heating. As there was little room in her home he sat on the bed where he asked about local people’s living conditions later visiting other inhabitants.

The Premier told villagers that “the Party and government will not let you live in such conditions within a big city”. He went on to say that “the coexistence of high buildings and slum dwellers should not be allowed. Everyone has the right to live in a new house and of leading a better life”.

It was not the first time the Premier had spoken in this way. On Feb 3, 2013 he said in a shanty town in Baotou city, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region: “we should not allow high buildings and slum dwellers to exist in the same city, with one side having neon lights glittering, while the other side lacks basic living necessities.”

At the conclusion of that year’s two sessions, the Premier repeated the sentiment during his first press conference after taking office, adding that the government would renew 10 million shanty towns across the country.

Li Zhongyi never thought she would see the Premier again but nine months later, on September 11, 2014, while attending the Davos Forum held in Tianjin, he interrupted a busy schedule to visit the housing project. The new homes cover 800,000 square meters and will be completed between June and December this year.

Li Zhongyi recalled that the Premier shook hands with villagers and immediately recognized her. He looked through every detail of the sample house before saying that shanty towns are scars on a city and that there are many such areas nationwide, but with persistent efforts the scars will finally be healed.