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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