Category Archives: forced demolition

“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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Filed under Beijing does a Good Thing, China, Communist Party, forced demolition

“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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