Wang Lili looked sadly out from her chemist shop at the row of empty homes and boarded-up windows on Urumqi Road in central Shanghai. Many were covered with the character chai, meaning 'demolish'. 'All that block will go soon,' she says. 'This shop used to be on that side of the road and we moved over here last year. I have worked here for 20 years. I do not know how long we can stay. 'This neighbourhood is being demolished and the residents moved far away. This means that the number of our customers will shrink and our business will decline.' Ms Wang shares the experience of more than a million Shanghai people. They are part of the biggest peace-time internal migration in China's history, and one of the largest in the world. Since the early 1990s, the city government has demolished thousands of homes in central Shanghai and shifted the residents to new, suburban apartments. Last year, 99,000 families moved and the city plans to relocate 80,000 families a year in the next five years. It has been a wrenching process for many families, who do not want to leave their homes of decades, even for apartments with better facilities. They cannot afford to buy in central Shanghai because land where their homes used to stand has been turned into office blocks, apartments, hotels, and public buildings. A flood of foreign investment is inundating the city - US$5.03 billion last year, up 16 per cent from 2001 - and the new companies want offic- es, factory space and apartments for their employees. Last year, 6,427 domestic companies from outside Shanghai set up new offices in the city, further fuelling demand. The city government is easing restrictions. In the Maoist era, a Shanghai chukou (residence card), allowing the holder to live in China's most modern city, was almost impossible to secure. Now any of China's 1.3 billion people can move to Shanghai, if they can afford it. Jobs are open to anyone, the chukou requirement has been dropped. Urumqi Road's crowded blocks, where residents hang their washing on trees for want of space, are being torn down to build 20- and 30-storey office and apartment buildings. The refurbished space sells for more than 7,000 yuan (about HK$6,597) per square metre. 'In the future, only the rich will live here - rich Chinese and rich foreigners. The rest of us will live outside the centre,' says Ms Wang. Last year, sales to the poor - flats costing less than 3,000 yuan per square metre - accounted for 15 per cent of the market. The poor account for at least half of the population. Sales to the middle class, with flats costing 3,000 to 5,000 yuan per square metre, accounted for 54.1 per cent. Upper middle-class sales, at 5,000 to 7,000 yuan per square metre, accounted for 21.2 per cent, while sales to the wealthy, with flats worth more than 7,000 yuan per square metre, accounted for 9.8 per cent. The most expensive homes sold for more than 10,000 yuan per square metre. Of the homes costing more than 7,000 yuan per square metre, 55 per cent were bought by people who are not Shanghai residents. The proportion rose to nearly 70 per cent for those costing more than 8,000 yuan per square metre. A study by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, published earlier this month, said the supply of homes for the poor was seriously inadequate, with almost none available within 750 square kilometres of the city centre. It also said that, in the next three years, the annual supply of homes costing more than 7,000 yuan per square metre would exceed three million square metres. The sale of it requires intensive marketing, aimed at foreigners and rich non-local Chinese. Wang Shuitian, an analyst at Brawman Union Property Research Centre, says the government no longer builds homes, leaving the task to developers. 'For them, low-cost housing is high cost and low profit. Only a small proportion of the population benefit from official policies that apply to those earning less than 290 yuan a month and living in less than five square metres per person,' he says. 'Sales of second-hand homes last year rose by more than 20 per cent, double the level for new homes. 'This is because people do not want to move to the apartments they have been assigned in distant suburbs, often with inadequate schools and hospitals and far from their work.'