Category Archives: housing demolition

“The Wukan Protests –Because Something Is Happening Here But You Don’t Know What It Is”

China Law and Policy has an article for people wondering about exactly how the situation in Wukan developed. If you are curious about why land grabs are such a common source of anger in China, take a look. Otherwise, their conclusion about whether or not Wukan represents some kind of change:

Wukan is not an example of villagers seeking their rights under the law. China’s property laws – the PRL and the LAL – provide little rights to villagers.

But there is certainly something happening here… I’m just not so sure what it is and perhaps it is still too early to determine if Wukan is in fact a harbinger of something more. Protests in China against rural land takings and the lack of just compensation occur on an almost daily basis. But in Wukan, these protests were large, public and extreme. Add to the mix that one of the protest leaders died while in police custody.

On some level Wukan had the potential to end differently, to end violently. But it didn’t. Instead, the provincial government stepped in to admonish the local officials (although interestingly enough such punishment is going to happen outside of the legal system and under shuangguai, the Party adjudication method – see Nanfang translation), praise the villagers, admonish against further protest and agree to provide greater compensation.

But how often can the provincial or central government step in and continuously calm these tensions? Arguably the government must recognize that it is the structure of the law itself that leads to such discontent. But such a discriminatory law is necessary to provide for real estate development, an increasingly important part of China’s GDP. Will the government change this paradigm and provide equal property rights to villagers? Right now it is unclear. Wukan seems to have ended in the same way as all of these protests do. But perhaps this time the central leadership will realize that constantly involving itself in these local protests is unsustainable.

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“China’s rebel villagers in Wukan threaten to march on government offices”

Amazingly, Wukan is still holding stable- the Telegraph has the latest:

During another day of protests and marches, Wukan village representative Lin Zulian addressed a crowd of more than 6,000, pledging to fight with their lives against the corrupt system which has robbed them of their coastal land and of their village leader, Xue Jinbo.

“We give the local government and police five days to hand back Xue’s body. If not, we shall climb over our barricades and march on the [Lufeng] town hall to try and get his remains,” said Mr Lin.

Last week protest in the village saw the local party and police lose control and flee the area, for the first time on record. In retaliation police have mounted a seven-day blockade that is choking the village of food supplies.

As the protesters filed passed the now empty village administrative centre, they slid paper notes into a ballot-like box and gripped onto their banners demanding democracy.

“If they have 100 coffins, they can bury me in 99. But I will save one for the corrupt officials who have been working with business people to take away our rights and our friend,” said Mr Lin.

Among their angry chants, the villagers once more voiced support for the Communist Party and the central government – and called for top to bottom transparency among their leaders.

It is to the capital, Beijing, that the mainly peasant farmers and fishermen look for salvation – as well as justice and emancipation from the long reign of a crooked local government that has been chased out of town.

The Sunday Telegraph toured the village barricades yesterday. Sawn down trees, crudely tied trip wire, wood embedded with nails, strategically scattered broken glass and stockpiles of rubble projectiles are the main defence against any goon snatch squads who dare to enter the village.

But defiance and anger remain the most potent weapons against the increasing number of paramilitary police seen mustering at checkpoints on the main roads.

Some villagers have walkie-talkie radios but mobile phones remain the main means of communication.

Fearing the government will soon cut the lines and down the internet connection, gongs have been placed at the barricades and are to be sounded to summon the village to defend against attack.

“There is a lot of anger here. They have been robbing and lying to use for a long time,” he said.

The small fishing vessels are tied up – unable to be put to sea because of a small flotilla of marine police are blockading the small bay’s entrance, according to Chen. “They chase you back in,” he said.

A slogan adorning a government funded hotel which was due to be open next year reads: “Running along the seaside in the golden times!”

“They built it on our land. We want it back,” said Chen.

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“Pair take a stand in Wukan, China, but for how long?”

Tom Lasseter has a new article about Wukan, where the status quo holds for now:

Lin Zulian and Yang Semao are wanted men.

The mayor of the city that oversees this farming and fishing village has publicly named the pair as main agitators of Wukan’s recent rebellion against the local government. Acting Shanwei Mayor Wu Zili vowed to crack down on them and their allies, according to state media.

Such a threat would terrify most Chinese in a nation infamous for police state tactics. But on Friday morning, both men stood in front of a crowd of thousands here and railed against local corruption.

“The officials are lying to the villagers,” Yang said, standing behind a large photograph of Xue Jinbo, a fellow advocate who died in police custody Sunday. A few minutes later, he burst into tears that were echoed by heaving sobs from the rows of people in front of him.

While the open flouting of government rule in Wukan almost certainly won’t last very long — and it’s occurring only in one nook of one province — moments such as the rally Friday are breathtaking for an authoritarian state. The leaders of the revolt, which has sealed off the village from security checkpoints, are attempting to make the point that, as Lin said, “the people who have committed crimes are the corrupt officials.”

So far, Beijing is trying to contain Wukan’s message both physically — with police at the main road leading into the village — and in the realm of public opinion by censoring news and comments on the Internet.

In the meantime, officials are trying to drive a wedge between locals. Some residents have received text messages urging, “Please calm down, the leaders are already dealing with the problem.”

But calming the populace has become more complicated as China’s rocketing economic expansion runs parallel with strictures on political discourse, a combustible mix that gives officials access to riches at the same time that it restrains citizens’ ability to speak up.

Adding to the potential troubles, the government may have provided the rebels in Wukan with a martyr.

Xue Jinbo was part of a committee of 13 villagers, including Lin and Yang, that formed in September to negotiate with area officials after demonstrations and a police crackdown that month. After plainclothes security took Xue away last Friday, state media announced that he’d died Sunday of heart complications.

Xue’s family and seemingly everyone else in Wukan thinks that he was murdered, and they cite as proof the government’s refusal to release his body.

“For those who’ve seen my father’s body, they believe that he was beaten to death,” said Xue’s son, Xue Jiandi, a 20-year-old university student in a brown flannel shirt and jeans.

During memorial services Friday for Xue Jinbo, groups of villagers walked down a green carpet in groups of 30 to 40, stopping to bow in unison and pay their respects to a picture of him. Women wailed beneath a blue funeral tent.

The procession of mourners lasted for hours.

At one point, a man stood outside and yelled: “There is no body! There is no body!”

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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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“Blue Dragon Mountain: the Chinese village ‘that doesn’t exist’”

An interesting one from Peter Foster at the Telegraph about one case where the forcefully relocated have managed to hold their own:

In December 1998 bulldozers demolished their homes to make way for a reservoir to supply drinking water to the rapidly expanding tourist centre of Harbin, but when the local government failed to give adequate compensation, the villagers decided to move back in.

“We returned to the village on April 10 [1999] and at first it was very hard,” recalled Yu Liyou, one of the original returnees, speaking under the watchful gaze of Chairman Mao Zedong whose beatifically smiling portraits are still found in rural homes in China.

“We all lived together in a simple collective house and divided into four work brigades to rebuild the village. It was just like the production teams in the old days.” And so began a decade-long stand-off against the local authorities that continues to this day and has become a national example of how the nameless, numberless casualties of China’s economic progress can sometimes stand up for themselves.

Officially the village of Blue Dragon Mountain – Qinglongshan in Chinese – ceased to exist in 1998: its name was erased from maps, the electricity was disconnected, the dirt road closed and its inhabitants relocated to neighbouring districts where – officially – they still ‘live’.

“I talked to those government people, and they said, ‘there’s nothing here, look on the map, you don’t exist’,” said a 76-year-old village elder, Xiao Yongting, “So I replied, ‘well, if we don’t exist, what are we? An independent nation state?”

This story of bravado in the face of officialdom, delivered by the old man as he cracked sunflower seeds expertly between his two remaining teeth, raises a round of appreciative snorts from the fellow villagers.

But the seditious cackles disguises the limits of the villagers’ victory: for all their defiance, the government officials are factually correct; in the eyes of the all-powerful Chinese bureaucracy the inhabitants of Blue Dragon Mountain don’t exist as they have no ID cards and no resident’s papers.

Without these documents they must live in limbo, unable even to buy a train ticket, or check into a hotel (ID card required), which makes long-distance travel all but impossible; they also cannot open a bank account, apply for rural medical insurance, take a job with a registered company or enroll in a university.

He goes on to say that there’s growing pressure to reform or end the hukou system. That’s true, but it seems far too useful a tool for the government to give up. We’ll see what they do with it.

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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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“China’s Empty Apartments”

Anyone curious about the Chinese real estate market needs to read this article on ChinaBeat. Why does it matter? This phenomenon is just one piece of a puzzle which do a lot of damage to the Chinese economy:

Southeast of Kunming, a new city has risen from the earth, so new that it is literally called the “Chenggong New Area.” Giant complexes of towering, modern apartment buildings line the wide, recently built streets, broken every few kilometers by parks as large and as well-designed as any in Kunming proper. Every block of apartment buildings has a police sub-station, and some have functioning schools. Along the recently constructed highways linking the new city to the old, it seems as if farmland has been transformed into a high-rise commuter suburb like those on the outskirts of Hong Kong and Tokyo in less than a decade.

But something is off. Traffic passes through at a languid one to two cars a minute, about one tenth the rate of less densely built urban districts in Kunming. Unlike residential neighborhoods in most Chinese cities, no clothing stores or noodle shops are open for business. Instead, the vast majority of operating storefronts are either real estate offices or furniture stores, and their keepers only report an average of one or two paying customers a week. Most strikingly, the expected throngs of pensioners practicing tai chi and dance in the parks are nowhere to be seen.

A closer inspection explains this eerie quiet. In almost every building, anywhere from ten to sixty percent of the windows lack curtains or any other visible signs of habitation. Chenggong is a fully built city that lies half-empty. It is a modern ghost town. Yet, there are practically no “for sale” signs. The town is both fully built and fully sold.

Similar reports are coming in from all over China. In the Kangbashi neighborhood in the desert city of Ordos, housing that observers estimate can hold between 300,000 and 1 million people has been built and left virtually unoccupied. In the seaside resort city of Sanya, property prices rose 50 percent from 2008 to 2009, yet nobody knows how much of the new construction is being used. And these are only the most visible examples of a more systemic problem. While statistics in China are notoriously unreliable, Shanghai-based economist Andy Xie publicly estimated last year that China had a vacancy rate of 25 to 30 percent, roughly 10 times the amount he would consider normal. Beijing-based Dragonomics property analyst Roselea Yao put the national vacancy rate at around 20 percent, the majority in high quality, recently constructed buildings.

The government owns all the land, and leases it out at its discretion to earn revenue. Buyers pay more than the market value, while the people living on the land receive less, with the surplus going to local governments. If there is a problem with the government, the courts will be of no help because the judges owe their jobs to the same local officials who depend on that money. Real estate companies therefore are composed mainly of individuals well versed in negotiating with the government but with little skill and even less interest in building housing that fulfills the needs of the average person.

In Mr. He’s estimation, the fact that housing has become unaffordable for ordinary people will not result in prices falling to meet actual demand, since the government’s policy will drive housing prices and ordinary people simply do not matter in the government’s considerations.

“In theory, [prices should decrease], but, in fact, that will not happen,” Mr. He said. “The only ones who hope housing prices will go down are the poor people.”

“Do you think the poor people are strong enough to fight against the landowners, the government and real estate companies?” He asked, rhetorically.

I would assume almost everyone in China has seen traces of this: huge developments that seem to be almost completely empty, 40-floor apartment buildings with only three or four units lit at night. People seem more and more willing to use the ‘B’ word recently, and if this does turn out to be a bubble the Chinese economy is going to be in a lot of trouble.

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“Unable to stop land grab, Chinese farmer set self afire”

Anyone looking to understand why Jiangxi Bomber Qian Mingqi took such an extreme course of action should read this article from McClatchy, revealing exactly what you’re up against when your property is demolished here:

The central government and the ruling Communist Party gave notice in March that rural officials should follow the “spirit” of regulations issued in January for urban property that require due process and fair payment for forced demolitions. The measure also specifically forbade the use of violence or coercion.

None of which helped Wang Jiazheng as he stood on his roof at about 8:30 a.m. April 22.

Wang had discovered that his village leader, a man named Guo Jianguang, had secretly signed over the community’s land and also allegedly waived the right to public hearings.

Asked by phone whether he had, in fact, agreed to hand over village land without talking with others, Guo replied, “Yes, that is true,” and then said in a loud voice that he didn’t have time to talk and hung up.

The government planned to compensate Wang for about 3,000 square feet of housing. The 350,000 yuan payment, worth roughly $53,800, was more than enough to pay for the 2,600-square foot apartment the government wanted Wang to move into. Wang would have been left with 210,000 yuan, some $32,300, a significant sum in rural China, where the annual net income is about $1,000.

But from Wang’s perspective, he’d been cheated. His family’s two homes covered nearly 6,500 square feet, so he was ending up with less than half the compensation he thought he deserved and getting stuck with a smaller home.

Added to that, the development had scooped up all the farmland he’d tended. He worried that neither he nor his family would have a way to make a living in the future.

Wang complained first to local officials, then went to Beijing in 2009 to petition for an investigation of the case, all to no avail.

This is something that even apolitical Chinese are aware of, and are none too happy about.  The primary purpose of courts here is to shield the Party from legal challenges, so…  I guess the system works?

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“The sad story of Jiangxi bomber, Qian Mingqi”

Recently there’s been a lot of talk about a man in Jiangxi province who detonated multiple bombs at government offices.  Shanghaiist has put together many of the details, giving us a picture of why he did it:  his home was demolished by the government, something that happens regularly to people across China when local officials are offered enough money by some development company.  It’s been a source of true and growing anger among the populace, and the most shocking part of the whole story is that he has been largely embraced for his actions:

The outpouring of sympathy for Qian online has been massive. His profile on Sina Weibo alone attracted over 25,000 followers overnight. Many have pored through his postings in an attempt to look into what went through his mind in the last few months. In their condolence messages left on his account, some netizens have called him a “hero of the people”, a “good person”, and a “real man who sacrificed himself for others”. Others have decried Sina Weibo moderators for their “inhumane” deletion of some of Qian Mingqi’s tweets, arguing that the man’s trail of internet activity should be left online.

More and more people are starting to get left behind by the China “miracle,” and the internet is exposing more and more of them to the incredible levels of corruption and shamelessness in the government.  This is a really dangerous combination, and I don’t think the government has any plan for how to deal with it.

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