Category Archives: forced demolition

“Razing History”

A writer named Jonathan Kaiman has a piece in The Atlantic about Beijing’s war on hutongs, which are still being demolished despite official claims that they would be protected:

The demolition of Beijing’s historical courtyard alleyways, called hutong, has long been one of the city’s most controversial issues. At the height of the city’s headlong rush to modernity in the 1990s, about 600 hutong were destroyed each year, displacing an estimated 500,000 residents. Seemingly overnight, the city was transformed from a warren of Ming dynasty-era neighborhoods into an ultramodern urban sprawl, pocked with gleaming office towers and traversed by eight-lane highways.

Remaining hutong dwellers are worried, and for good reason — they have a lot to lose. Their courtyard houses have survived centuries of war and revolution, the strain of collective ownership, and the turbulence of early economic reform. Passed down from generation to generation, they are often last-remaining monuments to entire family lines.

Patchy compensation schemes have left some displaced families insolvent. Unable to afford a new home in the old city, which is gentrifying almost as quickly as it’s disappearing, they are forced to move into shoddy high-rise communities on the city’s exurban outskirts.

But Zhongnanhai-area demolitions are not like other demolitions. They’re more frightening, less easy to understand. Their location eliminates the possibility of a commercial motive. I called the neighborhood police and the district government looking for answers, but their spokespeople hung up the phone or put me through to disconnected lines. Remaining tenants responded to my questions about their neighborhood’s future with incredulous stares.

In January, 2005, over a decade of negotiations between officials and hutong preservationists culminated in the passage of a sweeping proposal called the Beijing City Master Plan. The Master Plan designated a large swath of hutong in central Beijing as a “historical and cultural protected area,” immune from redevelopment. On a map of protected areas, the hutong around Zhongnanhai glowed in a bright, safe yellow. Obviously, it didn’t do much good.

Overhead satellite images viewed on Google Earth suggest that the protected safe zones were neither safe nor protected. In images from early 2005, a small area by Zhongnanhai’s eastern border appears as a dense cluster of trees and rooftops, virtually indistinguishable from any other hutong neighborhood in Beijing. In an image from April, 2006, it is a construction zone.

I decided to take one last walk through the neighborhood on a bright afternoon in early February, but found the site sealed off by a high concrete wall. I followed the perimeter until I came across a discrete metal door. Within seconds, somebody opened it.

The man wore a black police coat and ushered out another man, who was wearing a hardhat. Although I only caught a glimpse of the site, I could see immediately that the last remaining street was gone. The space was enormous, the ground covered in white dust from the wreckage. A fleet of empty police cars was parked to one side. A few men walked around holding clipboards.

Then I saw it, at the far end of the expanse — one house was still standing. Of course it could be empty, I thought. But what if it wasn’t? I strained my eyes for signs of movement. The house’s roof still looked intact, but its walls were crumbling, its windows broken. Under the circumstances, what could possibly justify staying behind?

Issues of human rights aside, it’s really sad to see China’s architectural heritage getting demolished like this. I find it hard to believe that the government couldn’t invest more in renovating these homes (many of which have water, electrical, and plumbing issues) instead of of completely destroying them, but apparently selling the land to developers makes more sense to them right now. A pity.

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“Beijing Rejects Death Claims”

What a surprise- the government claims that it totally didn’t kill those minorities! RFA reports:

Chinese authorities have dismissed reports of deaths in clashes last week between Hui Muslims and police over the demolition of a mosque in northwestern Ningxia region as Beijing came under rare criticism from a key global Islamic group over the violence.

According to a Hong Kong-based rights group, hundreds of Muslims in Ningxia’s Taoshan village clashed with police in a bid to prevent the demolition work, and the ensuing violence caused several deaths.

Hundreds of residents in Taoshan village confronted police armed with tear gas, truncheons and knives, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported.

An official who answered the phone at the Tongxin county government, which oversees Taoshan village, denied that any deaths had occurred, however.

“No, nobody died,” the official said in an interview on Tuesday.

The group said the violence between local Muslims and roughly 1,000 armed officers began after police declared a newly built mosque to be illegal, and moved in to demolish it.

One Taoshan resident told Reuters he was away at the time of the clash, but that his relatives in the town believed five people had been killed.

The resident, Jin Haitao, said villagers believed the dead included two elderly women, a young man and two people from nearby areas.

Residents of nearby areas complained that telephone links with Taoshan had been cut, making it impossible to verify what had happened.

Jin told Hong Kong’s Cable Television that local Hui Muslims had spent more than 8 million yuan (U.S. $1.27 million) on the mosque, only to have it torn down by the authorities.

“They told us that the mosque was illegal, and they said our gathering was an illegal activity,” Jin said.

“They beat us with police batons and bayonets, and the villagers gave no resistance.”

The violence drew rare criticism on Wednesday from the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

“The [OIC] spokesman expresses his deep concern over reports of a clash between local villagers and police resulting in numerous casualties and the destruction of a Mosque in Taoshan village … in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China,” the Saudi Arabia-based group said in a statement on its website.

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Wukan: Holding Steady

The latest on Wukan from a few sources:

First, Tom Lasseter continues to report from the scene-

Locals say that after they fought off a police advance on Dec. 11 and closed off the town to village security forces and Chinese Communist Party officials, government boats chased the fisherman from open waters into a harbor of the South China Sea. While there’s no blockade to be seen, the fear of the unknown is enough to keep most of the boats moored.

The government of the nearby city of Lufeng “is scared that we’ll buy weapons and bring them in,” said a 49-year-old fisherman surnamed Lin, who requested that his full name not be used for fear of reprisals.

Two other fishermen quickly offered a different theory: Officials don’t want people fleeing to Hong Kong and Taiwan across the sea.

It’s unclear whether the standoff will end with crackdown or negotiation.

Perhaps owing to those anxieties, a notice appeared Monday morning outside a house where many journalists are staying that asked them not to use the words “uprising” or “revolt” to describe the situation.

One member of the group, surnamed Shen, suggested unease about things going too far.

“We’re afraid that if we go to Lufeng the police will shoot us, or detain people and beat them to death,” said Shen, a short man in baggy black pants who also didn’t want his first name used.

Organizers have painted a less dramatic picture: If the police don’t allow the procession to pass, they’ll just stage a sit-in.

Shen said that despite his misgivings he’d probably join the march.

“I used to go out to the sea and fish, and then come back at noon and tend my family’s land,” he said. “But now I can’t fish and our land has been taken away.”

What, he asked, is there left for him to do?

Next, from RFA:

In a mass meeting on Monday, villagers made a collective decision to stage a demonstration on Wednesday and march to the city government, local sources said.

“Basically the whole village is there,” said a resident surnamed Chen on Monday. “There are maybe 6,000 or 7,000 people.”

“They are at the main intersection.”

Officials are now threatening that several thousand armed police officers now stationed in a cordon around the village, and carrying out identity checks on all those coming and leaving, are being readied for an assault on the village, according to Zhang.

An activist surnamed Yu, who traveled to Wukan in a show of solidarity with local residents, said he was detained after arriving at one of the road-blocks set up by armed police.

Yu, who traveled with a group of 10 others, said he was held from Dec. 8-16, before being escorted back home to the provincial capital, Guangzhou.

“I and a lot of other netizens are being confined to our homes,” Yu said. “We can’t go out.”

Guangzhou-based lawyer Tang Jingling was taken away by police at the weekend, his wife said.

“It’s probably to do with the Wukan incident,” said Tang’s wife, surnamed Wang. “I called up the police station to ask, and they told me that he was being held on orders from the Guangzhou municipal police department.”

A resident of Shangdaimei village, also near Shanwei city, said hundreds of villagers had marched to local government offices in Xinan township on Sunday to protest the sale of their farmland.

“There were some officials from the Communist Party commission for discipline inspection who said they would come to our village, but they never came,” said one protester, Lao Zhang.

“So we went to the township to protest … We were also protesting and calling for an allocation of land,” he said. “They should give it all back to the villagers.”

And finally, from Bloomberg:

Protesters in the Southern Chinese village of Wukan have organized to distribute food to the poor as a nine-day police blockade left people short of supplies.

People in the village in Guangdong province have not been allowed to get food from the outside and are donating remaining supplies to the poor, Huang Rongbiao, a restaurant owner in Wukan, said in a telephone interview yesterday. Villagers are allowed to come and go from Wukan as long as they don’t bring in food supplies, Huang said.

“Maybe there’s enough food for now but I can’t guess how long that will last,” said Huang, who has kept his restaurant closed for 10 days. “Hopefully, the government will handle this and we are waiting for news.”

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Wukan Protests: Dabian Hits the Fan

Wukan, the Guangzhou village which has slowly been getting more and more out of hand, seems to have crossed a handful of lines. There are a ton of good stories on this from all over the place- Malcolm Moore was in the village itself and filed this:

Wukan has been encircled by the police cordon since Sunday, after a failed attempt by 1,000 armed police to capture the village. No food or water is allowed in, and no villagers allowed out.

Villagers say that they have enough supplies to hold out for only 10 more days.

But the villagers were unbowed yesterday, and their leaders said they had seen signs that the government would “blink first”.

Trouble in Wukan has been brewing since September, after the fishing village revolted at an attempt to take one of its last parcels of farmland and give it to a major Chinese property developer, Country Garden.

However it was the death of 43-year-old Xue Jinbo, one of the village’s 13 temporary representatives, in police custody that pushed Wukan into its current fury, and saw the last of the village’s dozen Communist party officials flee. His family believes he was murdered.

Thousands of villagers have held daily protest meetings outside the village hall since the news broke on Monday.

He later left the village, explaining:

The first rule of journalism is never to leave a running story.

Especially when you are the only journalist in town.

So why did I pull out of Wukan, slipping back past the police cordon last night down a slip road?

The story in the village is far from over, although I believe the situation is unlikely to change in the next few days, as the two sides tentatively negotiate their way towards a resolution.

The siege continues and on Dec 16 the village will mark the seventh day since Xue Jinbo, one of its representatives, died in police custody, an important public day of mourning.

The reason we had to pull out is because we felt we were putting ourselves and the villagers in danger by staying.

Jonathan Watts of the Guardian once told me, in my first few months in China, that the problem with being a journalist here is that you are surrounded by a ring of fire – you stay safe, but everyone else gets burned.

Custer from ChinaGeeks has been writing about the implications:

I don’t think I need to explain the ways in which this event is amazing, and I mean that in the literal sense of the word. Anyone with a funtional brain and half an eye on the Chinese media is aware that local government land grabs are a huge source of discontent, but if you’d told me a few months ago that a Chinese town would band together, run the local officials out of town, resist a force of 1,000 police officers intent on entering the town again (but, thankfully, not willing to use lethal force to do so, at least not yet), establish their own makeshift government, and keep the whole thing running even this long, I would have told you you were nuts.

Before we go any further, I want to get this out of the way: no, this is not the first spark in some nationwide rebellion that will see the national government overthrown. In fact, it’s not even a rebellion against the central government, as you can tell from the pleas for help from Beijing in Moore’s article.

Still, it puts Beijing in an awfully interesting position. As I see it, they have three basic options:
-Come to the rescue of the down, declare the local government officials corrupt, put them on trial and restore order peacefully. This is, I suspect, exactly what the people in Wukan want.
-Come to the rescue of the officials and provide them enough manpower to completely crush the rebellion. This would be easy, but would attract a lot of negative attention internationally, and there’s a risk of it leaking online domestically, too.
-Do nothing for the time being, and see if the officials can regain control on their own, or if the rebellion spreads.

The last option seems by far the most likely to me, which is good and bad news for the protesters in Wukan. No help is coming from Beijing, but at least that means the PLA probably isn’t coming either.

Of course, the central government isn’t really doing nothing, as mentions of Wukan
are being scrubbed from the media and deleted online. As you would expect, searching for “Wukan” on Weibo gives you the classic “According to the relevant laws, these results can’t be displayed” message.

He also has some pictures that give a sense of the scale. Another post, here, has more pictures and a video from the scene. Meanwhile the WSJ has an article about Wukan which mentions the broader picture of the dangers of land grabs:

Mr. Yu estimates that local officials have seized about 16.6 million acres of rural land (more than the entire state of West Virginia) since 1990, depriving farmers of about two trillion yuan ($314 billion) due to the discrepancy between the compensation they receive and the land’s real market value.

China’s Land Ministry has also warned that misappropriation of farmland has brought the country dangerously close to the so-called red line of 296 million acres of arable land that the government believes it needs to feed China’s 1.34 billion people.

The Land Ministry, which uses satellite imagery to spot abuses, launched a fresh crackdown on illegal land use this year, targeting golf courses, hotels and villas in particular, and has announced several high-profile cases in which officials have been punished.

But the central government’s attempts to curb such abuses, and to draft new legislation that would protect against land grabs and give farmers a market rate for their land, have met fierce resistance from local authorities who rely on land sales to maintain growth, service debt and top up their budgets.

In 2010 alone, China’s local governments raised 2.9 trillion yuan from land sales. And the National Audit Office estimates that 23% of local government debt, which it put at 10.7 trillion yuan in June, depends on land sales for repayment.

Finally, China Media Project has a post about how Beijing is directing the censorship of this case:

Finally late yesterday, just minutes before midnight and after a uniform blackout in Chinese media through the day, we had two news stories on Wukan from China News Service, China’s number-two official newswire. The first reported that Shanwei city authorities revealed at a press conference on the Wukan incident (乌坎事件) yesterday that “preliminary investigations have ruled out external force as the cause of death” in Xue’s case. The news story also said that the city’s medical expert shared photos of Xue’s body during the press conference.

The second China News Service report, also based on the press conference, said that “various village officials” from Wukan had been detained for discipline violations.

Curiously, though, there seems to be no coverage of the press conference from other media. That suggests that these stories can be taken as an illustration of “public opinion channeling” tactics at work. The authorities, in other words, are selectively releasing partial information from an official perspective in an attempt to frame and re-direct public attention. Message 1: Xue Jinbo was not killed by police, an assertion that removes the immediate reason for escalated tensions in Wukan. Message 2: local Wukan leaders have been detained for suspected discipline problems, an action that (leaders undoubtedly hope) will remove the initial underlying cause of tensions, alleged dirty land deals.

More as it comes in.

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“Chinese police besiege town and cut of food supplies in bid to quell riots”

Sounds like things are still getting worse, not better, in Wukan. Malcolm Moore has… more:

The latest protests began on Sunday, when police attempting to arrest a villager were repelled by villagers armed with sticks. The police fired tear gas before retreating.

At the same time, the local government brought the village’s simmering anger to a boil by admitting that Xue Jinbo, a 43-year-old butcher who had represented the villagers in their negotiations with the government, had died in police custody of “cardiac failure”.

Mr Xue was taken into custody last week and accused of inciting riots. Mr Xue was widely believed to have been tortured, perhaps to death, and his family were rumoured to have found several of his bones broken when receiving his corpse.

On Monday, around 6,000 people attended Mr Xue’s funeral and photographs of the massed crowds paying their respects circulated on the Chinese internet. “We’re very pained and angry at his death,” said one villager who declined to be named. “He didn’t commit any crime. He was just a negotiator speaking with the government, trying to get our land back. He was defending farmers’ rights.”

Meanwhile, more photographs showed thousands of Chinese police massing on the roads surrounding Wukan and villagers said that a blockade had been imposed. Villagers using the internet inside the cordon claimed that supplies of food, including rice were running low. “A lot of policemen are assembled outside the village,” wrote one villager on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, who named himself as Charles Suen.

If the Guangdong Model is a serious alternative, now would be a good time to prove it…

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“Fresh protests at restive Chinese town”

From FT we hear that Wukan, in southern China’s Guangzhou province, still hasn’t been brought back under full control by the government:

Officials in a Chinese village that has been the scene of months of unrest were taken hostage earlier this week in the latest escalation in a dispute over land rights.

The hostage taking – which ended with the officials being released – came after the arrest of one of the leaders of a series of protests in the village of Wukan. The villagers returned to the streets on Tuesday with at least 2,000 gathering to demand the release of Zhuang Liehong, who had organised petitions against an alleged land grab by local officials.

Wukan was the scene of violent confrontations between residents and local police in September, when a government office was damaged. Police responded with force, which locals said involved indiscriminate clubbing and beating of residents, including children.

Non-violent protests started again in late November when 4,000 villagers complained that a government investigation into the alleged land grab by a powerful developer in collusion with local party officials had not been carried out as promised. Online comment last month lauded the government for allowing the protests.

One 20-year-old villager on Tuesday told the Financial Times that the protest was a signal that locals were prepared to “fight to the death”.

On Monday, police set up road blocks on the road to Wukan, ostensibly for the purpose of cracking down on “gangs”, after residents took the village governor and a dozen officials hostage as part of a protest. The officials were later released.

“The person who was arrested didn’t commit any crime. He didn’t beat people and he didn’t sell drugs,” said a local businessman named Mr Sun. “The government here is terrible and have dark minds. If the villagers won in the end, the officials would lose their position so they try every way to make us give up.”

A local government spokesman said there was no clash on Monday but that villagers had detained officials for a few hours. “Villagers always go to the village committee to express their complaints,” Mr Huang said. “Things are developing. Details will be announced in official reports.”

Valiant effort at spinning it, Mr. Huang! I had no idea villagers were allowed to detain officials, what an intriguing development.

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“4,500 march against land grab in Lufeng, Guangdong”

Via Shanghaiist, reports and pictures from a protest in Guangdong:

Thousands of protestors from Wukan village marched today in what appears to be a well-organised, peaceful demonstration in Guangdong’s Lufeng city. They carried colourful banners with slogans against corrupt government officials and dictatorship as they demanded for the return of their farmland.

‘The government promised to solve the land problem but they haven’t… If they don’t handle it this time, it won’t be peaceful next time.’ The protest centres around land requisitioned in Wukan village, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Lufeng government.

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“Land Sales Hurting China’s Poor”

Well, duh. Still, Bloomberg has the latest:

Bulldozers razed Li Liguang’s farmhouse four years ago after officials in the Chinese city of Loudi told him the land was needed for a 30,000-seat stadium.

What Li, 28, says they didn’t tell him is that he would be paid a fraction of what his plot was worth and get stuck living in a cinder-block home, looking on as officials do what he never could: Grow rich off his family’s land.

It’s a reversal of one of the core principles of the Communist Revolution. Mao Zedong won the hearts of the masses by redistributing land from rich landlords to penniless peasants. Now, powerful local officials are snatching it back, sometimes violently, to make way for luxury apartment blocks, malls and sports complexes in a debt-fueled building binge.

City governments rely on land sales for much of their revenue because they have few sources of income such as property taxes. They’re increasingly seeking to cash in on real estate prices that have risen 140 percent since 1998 by appropriating land and flipping it to developers for huge profits.

There’s more to come. Some 60 million farmers will be uprooted over the next two decades as the urbanization that propelled China to the world’s second-largest economy gathers pace, according to an estimate by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. In many cases, officials take land they don’t use, an August report from the academy said.

That was the final insult for Li. The rice and bean plot his family farmed for generations still lies empty, weeds sprouting from the red earth. Villagers are convinced that the city has sold it to developers, even though they can’t point to any documentation to prove it.

“They flattened the land and still haven’t used it,” says Li, a wiry man with short-cropped hair, sitting inside the hut he built in a garbage-strewn alleyway across a main road from the stadium. “They sold it for I don’t know how many millions of yuan.”

Officials in Loudi, located in central China in Mao’s home province of Hunan, wouldn’t answer questions about whether plots in Li’s village were sold or what they will be used for.

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“Thousands riot in south China over land grab”

I thought the 2011 Protest Season was over… apparently not. Latecomers in Lufeng city aim to make up for lost time (via Reuters):

Witnesses in Lufeng city said the protests, in which around a dozen residents were hurt, were triggered by the seizure of hectares of land and their sale to property developer Country Garden for 1 billion yuan ($156.6 million), Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported.

Directing their ire at the local seat of government and attacking buildings including the local Communist Party headquarters and a police station, the angry mob in some cases used “sticks, bricks and their fists,” the Post reported.

Roads were also blocked, and a businessman said several thousand villagers had joined demonstrations outside government headquarters since Wednesday.

The dispute was triggered on Wednesday morning when villagers demanded the return of their land, the report said.

Note that this is happening under the rule of Wang Yang, whose Guangdong Model is being viewed as a potential alternative to the iron-fisted Chonqging Model. He better put it into practice fast.

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“77-year-old female kneels down, naked, in front of courthouse to protest land grab”

Well, that’s one way to do it (via Ministry of Tofu):

On August 18, Zhuang Jinghui, a 77-year-old woman went naked on her knees in order to call Shanghai’s justice system to account for their ineptitude. She wore nothing but a sign in black and white that says, “I want my case to be investigated. Champion the laws. Return the right to sue to me.” Despite repeated clamors for justice from her and her fellow petitioners standing outside the courthouse, no one stood out to answer her needs on the court’s behalf.

Ms. Zhuang ran a private clinic until it was forcibly demolished. In 2002, she was tricked by the Center for Land Reserve in Shanghai’s Pudong District into signing a carte blanche and ended up getting no compensation at all. In 2004, Ms. Zhuang’s elder sister was seized with a fit of anger over a judge’s insensitive words when the court was intermediating the land dispute, and died soon.

In 2006, Ms. Zhuang went to Beijing several times to protest the unilateral land seizure. To appease her anger, Pudong’s district court ruled, rather reluctantly, that “The case is closed for further appeal or implementation,” leading her to believe that the property would be safe from forced demolition.

Nevertheless, in 2008, Pudong’s Center for Land Reserve disregarded the court rule and tore down the house. As all her multiple petitions were brushed aside, Zhuang had to protest in the nude at the gate of the district government building, before she was finally relocated into a unit. However, the unit has no water, electricity or gas. Nor does its land ownership belong to Zhuang. She could not run her clinic.

At 11 a.m., Zhuang went to the district courthouse to demand her case be heard. Being received by no one, she began to take off her clothes one by one. After she became naked, she and a dozen other petitioners were locked up in a meeting room. Zhuang climbed out through the window and had knelt down in front of the courthouse for about half an hour before finally a few female judges came out, wrapped her in a comforter and carried her into the meeting room.

Perhaps they’ll actually review her case, if only to get her to stop doing that?

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“Beijing Subway’s “Great Leap Forward” Provokes Resistance”

Yesterday we saw some of Fareed Zakaria’s reasons for thinking that the Chinese economy might not be totally invincible. Today Jared Hall at China Beat has a good post here going into the connections between development, forced demolition, and the coffers of local governments. It mostly focuses on the Beijing subway, which is being expanded at breakneck speed:

In one case earlier this year, occupants of a building adjacent to the Daxing extension of Line Four protested when trains passing on the elevated line rattled their homes. A subsequent investigation revealed the tracks had been laid too close to existing buildings, and that basic sound and vibration management technology had been scrapped to cut costs.

The Daxing extension case is illustrative of two common features of the subway corporation’s interaction with Beijing residents. First, the above-ground project was implemented without any community participation in the planning process. When inquiries from those affected were directed to the company, they were simply ignored. Of course, this high-handed approach to planning extends well beyond mass transit authorities. It is endemic among transportation-related initiatives ranging from road-widening to car registration, and reflects an attitude that permeates a much wider swath of the public and quasi-public sectors in China. At the same time, it is still striking to see how blatantly the corporation disregards voices from the precise population it pledges to serve.

Second, although residents only discovered engineering deficiencies after the line had begun operation, they swiftly developed a coordinated strategy to redress their grievances. Their tactics included a combination of petitions and visits to government offices, public demonstrations, as well as lawsuits directed against the subway corporation. This particular repertoire of actions aligns exactly with those described by You-tien Hsing in her discussion of urban households resisting demolition more broadly. Even while operating within the political constraints of the capital, residents’ ability to first draw press coverage and then to extract a commitment from the subway corporation to rectify the problem should warn against dismissing localized resistance to expansion as futile.

To fund its ambitious expansion program, Beijing Subway has had to look beyond ticket sales. State-owned banks have been part of the solution. Generous loan terms have provided the capital necessary to construct much of the new infrastructure. Even so, mounting debts have only worked to underscore the need for fresh sources of revenue. This has pushed the subway corporation into related sectors like vehicle manufacturing and advertising. If such moves appear harmless enough, others have exposed real contradictions with its public interest mandate.

None have been more controversial than real estate development. The subway corporation, making use of its mandated public authority, has seized scarce urban plots and large tracts of suburban land. Those with previous land-use rights are compensated––often at below-market rates––and the land is sold later to developers at a considerable profit. The scale of this practice is difficult to measure, but its results are evidenced by sleek luxury condos and high-end shopping plazas erected on land formerly cleared for subway construction.

Beijing Subway is hardly alone in this game of property speculation. Last December, Shanghai Metro was called out for seizing over 35,000 square meters (8.6 acres) of land to construct a 603 square meter (0.1 acre) station in Jing’an District. Not long after, an office complex was erected on the site zoned as “municipal utility.” Wang Chengli, a professor researching urban transportation at Central South University in Changsha, chided metro operators across the country for “being led by the nose by developers.” He pointed to local officials as complicit in the practice, with some even going so far as to “operate ministries for profit.”

This process- seize land, compensate current owners minimally, and then flip it over to developers for huge stacks of cash- is a huge source of revenue for city governments across the country. Some, such as Custer at ChinaGeeks, have foreseen a wave of public anger in the future caused by governments trying to get out of their massive debt problems using this process. Perhaps they’ll figure something else out, but if you tie this in with the housing bubble that may or may not exist… it’s a huge problem waiting to happen. More on the potential housing bubble when I find it.

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“A Sane Approach to Development and Demolitions?”

ChinaGeeks has some interesting news- apparently the Party chief in Guangdong province is actually trying to develop a less destructive forced demolition technique. This one involves actually consulting people and being fair and might cut down on the number of infuriated citizens getting pushed over the edge. As Custer says:

Words matched by actions? Actually addressing an issue directly and constructively rather than just ignoring it and banning all discussion related to it? Taking the common people’s opinion of development projects into account? Who are you, and what have you done with the Guangdong CCP apparatus? Zing!

But seriously, unless there’s more going on here than we know about, this seems like a good thing. Delaying projects and actually talking to the people affected should help the government determine which projects are necessary or real improvements, and which projects are just destroying people’s homes for a quick buck. Much as I distrust the government’s ability to make that judgement, I’ve got to give the Guangdong boys credit here for at least coming up with the idea and starting the follow through. Here’s hoping they keep it up!

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“Official’s death sparks rioting in Hubei city”

As an example of the kind of almost everyday protests that break out here, check out this one reported by the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy:

More than 2,000 protesters attacked the Lichuan city government’s headquarters in Hubei for a fourth day yesterday after the mysterious death of a respected official during interrogation by prosecutors in nearby Badong county.

Angry villagers have taken to the streets in protest since Tuesday. The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said yesterday that at least 1,000 armed anti-riot policemen were deployed to stop angry protesters from entering the government headquarters on Thursday, with more than 20 people arrested.

A report in Guangzhou’s Southern Metropolis News quoted villagers from at least five villages formerly run by Ran as saying that he was the subject of a graft probe because he refused to forcibly demolish villagers’ flats during a government land requisition campaign, which enraged higher authorities including Li.

It cited angry villagers as saying that Ran was the only official who gave them support during government land requisitions and forced demolitions.

Incidents of this size are a regular occurrence. Note that forced demolitions are again a root cause behind their anger, and also that the protesters came together like this because they feel that every force in Chinese society- the Party, the media, the government, everything- is against them, with the exception of this one guy. This is the long-term effect of stacking the deck against the people in every imaginable way.

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Filed under China, corruption, forced demolition, protests