Holding out

By Liu Meng Source:Global Times Published: 2012-7-24 9:25:03


A resident from Shiliuzhuang village, Fengtai district, observes debris of homes demolished. Photo: Li Hao/GT
A resident from Shiliuzhuang village, Fengtai district, observes debris of homes demolished. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Editor's Note:

The story Homes demolished in bitter property fight appeared July 10 on Metro Beijing's front page.

Sina Weibo microblog postings uploaded by Zhou Jie, a villager from Shiliuzhuang village, Fengtai district, claimed "hundreds of thugs," allegedly hired by the local government, stormed the village around 4 am on July 4 looting and then semi-demolishing six houses, including Zhou's.

Angered by the attack, 10 villagers the next day went to the Tiananmen rostrum to kneel in front of the portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong. All were arrested and detained at the Fengtai district detention center.

Shiliuzhuang is one of 50 urban villages Beijing Municipal Government earmarked in 2010 to be redeveloped.

The story:

On the morning of July 7, Zhou said he witnessed the remaining portion of his home being demolished.

"I have lost my only shelter. Now, my only property is a towel I salvaged from the ruins of my home," he said. Zhou recalled that demolition workers beat his mother on July 4 and didn't give him or any other villagers any prior notice their homes would be razed.

Li Shulin, a villager who has refused to move, claimed compensation from the village government wasn't enough for him to resettle elsewhere.

But Xu Wanchao, the village's Party committee secretary, denied violence had been carried out during the demolition, adding that compensation offered to villagers was "fair and substantial."

He also rebuked claims that hired thugs had been enlisted to intimidate residents.

The back story:

I initially didn't get to visit the village due to deadline constraints, but did manage to conduct telephone interviews with three locals on July 9. Eager to know why both sides' accounts contradicted each other, I spent the morning of July 13 in the village investigating the story.

After speaking separately to Xu and then several hard-line villagers who had refused to move, it became clear that an effective, immediate resolution to the situation was elusive.

The local government insisted the demolition would ultimately benefit villagers, and ruled out any compromise.

Xu showed me around a two-story building that was the headquarters for the relocation project. Some villagers were consulting staff members in the building about the demolition of their homes.

Xu said compensation for villagers was about 13,000 yuan ($2,038) per square meter of their current home. Evicted villagers will also be eligible to buy apartments in new buildings for a discounted rate of 6,000 yuan per square meter - a fraction of the normal cost.

Xu explained that Zhou's father died years ago, leaving 31-year-old Zhou, who is unmarried, living with his mother.

"Considering both the mother and the son are single, we allocated the mother a 75-square meter two-bedroom house and Zhou a 55-square meter one-bedroom house," said Xu. "But Zhou felt they were cheated because if he was married and his dad was still alive, their family would be allocated housing spanning 200 square meters."

Xu added that other families also have similar grievances, including that their adult children are still single or someone in the family is divorced, meaning they are eligible for less land and compensation.

Pressed about the alleged looting Zhou claimed took place during the dawn raid, Xu said that some families refused to move despite being issued with repeated demolition notices.

In an effort to prove they weren't bluffing, notaries accompanied 100 security guards (who Zhou had described as "thugs") and village and township government officials in entering locals' homes.

Property was confiscated and transferred to demountable housing provided by the government for evicted residents so that demolition work could be carried out.

"Without removing their possessions, how could we demolish their homes?" Xu asked, stressing that the local government has the right to forcibly seize land.

Villagers were naturally unimpressed with the government's lack of tact in their unannounced 4 am raid.

Xu denied "thugs" had been hired to demolish homes, but Li Shulin claimed one of the men responsible from East China's Anhui Province had a change of heart midway into the demolition.

"He told me the village Party committee had hired him for 300 yuan per day, but he decided to quit and return home because he said he couldn't continue carrying out such an inhumane act," Li said.

Villagers detained for protesting at the Tiananmen rostrum were released on Friday, July 13.

Li Huanjun, 37, a single mother with a 13-year-old daughter, openly sobbed during my interview with her the day she was released. She had returned to the village to find her house demolished, leaving her homeless.

"I have no clean clothes and no place to take a shower," she told me, tears trickling down her face.

A middle-aged woman, Li Meiqing, whose house was well kept, told me she and her husband had resorted to desperate methods twice to repel the "thugs" from their home.

"We doused ourselves in gasoline and warned them we would self-immolate if they attempted to demolish our home," she said.

When I asked Zhou about the terms of compensation and explained what Xu had told me, he was reluctant to elaborate, only reiterating that the project was "illegal."

He claimed he had received a reply from the Beijing Municipal Commission of Housing and Urban-Rural Development that confirmed the building under construction, destined to be the evicted villagers' new home, didn't have a legal permit to be built.

"A building constructed illegally can't guarantee us leasehold or ownership rights," he said, adding he had hired a lawyer and was filing a lawsuit against the local government.

Besides questioning the construction's legality, villagers are also unsatisfied with the compensation offered to them by authorities.

"Prices of commercial housing south of our village are more than 20,000 yuan per square meter, nearly twice the price offered to us," said Zhou.

Li Shulin said villagers are "living in panic" amid their uncertain fate. Locals are taking turns volunteering on patrols around the clock to guard their village and prevent it from suffering another sudden raid.

Since July 4, 36 families have moved out of the village. About 40 families remain, among whom are the most determined holdouts. 

Tensions between both sides remain high. Villagers say the cost to them is sentimental, while the government claims it's paying a hefty financial cost.

"Each day they stay in the village and refuse to leave costs us the equivalent of a Mercedes-Benz sedan," said Xu.




Posted in: Metro Beijing

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