In Urban China, Resisting the Land Grab

by Ariella Tai

The Laogucheng neighborhood in Beijing is being demolished. (Photo: Shiho Fukada, The New York Times)

The New York Times recently featured an article entitled “Trampled in a Land Rush, Chinese Resist.” In anticipation of the possible passing of new legislation to protect the rights of low-income homeowners, local officials and developers are rushing to take advantage of the current absence of regulation. In neighborhoods like Beijing’s Laogucheng, residents have united as a community, standing up to real-estate developers planning to level their homes and construct enormously profitable high-rises and greenbelts in their stead.

The Times article features a video clip of one such protest, in which one resident implores the policemen attempting to contain the crowd; “How are we supposed to live? We have a low income and we only live on the rental income of our apartments! Now your evict our only tenants and cut off our only income? You are demolishing our houses- How are we supposed to live?”

This legislation is a long time coming. Developers have been demolishing homes and displacing populations with impunity, offering inadequate (if any) compensation, cutting off utilities and even hiring thugs to harass homeowners. Last November, the former wife of a garment factory owner, Tang Fuzhen, set herself on fire on the roof of the building after it was slotted for demolition, subsequently dying from her injuries. Other self-immolations, nail houses and protests have convinced legislators that changes must be made.

The article states that “The latest draft of legal protections would require developers to consult homeowners, pay market rates for homes and put off demolition until sales and relocation details are settled- prohibit governments from forcibly seizing homes.” While some members of Congress recognize the necessity of these safeguards, the interest groups who stand to make billions in their absence are currently blocking these changes.

One resident of Laogucheng describes injustice his community is suffering in the interim. “Even if you don’t want to leave, you have to leave, even if you want to buy, you cannot buy. They told us to buy second hand apartments in the mountain area. We live in Beijing and they want us to move to the mountains.”

These protests echo the resistance exhibited in Ou Ning’s Meishi Street, which chronicles a community fighting to save their neighborhood for its slotted demolition in preparation for the Olympic Games. The issues raised in this documentary are relevant as ever to those living in China today. Find out more about Meishi Street.

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