“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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Filed under development, forced relocation, housing demolition

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