Evictions spark wave of violence in China
By Jamil Anderlini in Beijing
|The scene last week after an explosion in Fuzhou city set off by a man at breaking point over the demolition of his home|
After nearly a decade of petitioning the government over the forced demolition of his home, Qian Mingqi, 52, reached breaking point last Thursday.
His first bomb was hidden in a car and exploded in a car park of the prosecutor’s office in his home town of Fuzhou city, Jiangxi province, at about 9am. It was followed by a blast outside the district government building and another at the drug administration building.
The blasts killed three people, including Mr Qian, and injured five more, according to an official account.
Such extreme actions have become common and they often involve people whose land or homes have been taken away by local governments, frequently by force, to make way for commercial real estate projects.
The nasty byproduct of China’s real estate boom over the past decade has been rampant corruption and collusion between developers and officials and the use of police and hired thugs to carry out evictions of under-compensated residents and farmers.
But the real estate frenzy prompted by China’s post-financial crisis stimulus package – the bulk of which was channeled into residential housing – has taken this trend to a new level.
“In the past couple of years we’ve seen a massive new wave of land grabs in China,” says Xianfang Ren, China analyst at IHS Global Insight. “We’ve also seen land requisitions change in nature as local governments increasingly seize rural residential land instead of just farmland.”
In China, all land is ultimately owned by the state and the government is the only entity that can change the designation of land from “rural” to “urban” in order to take advantage of the huge price gap between the two.
For most of the past decade officials mainly targeted farmland on the outskirts of cities, which they confiscated, often for minimal compensation, and then designated as urban land for sale to commercial property developers or factories, filling their coffers (and sometimes their own pockets) in the process.
But in recent years the Communist party has decided that China’s future food security depends on maintaining a “red line” of at least 120m hectares of farmland within the country’s borders and so requisitions have shifted to rural residential land instead. This has led to an increase in evictions in the countryside and an increase in violent confrontations.
Last September, in a village on the outskirts of Fuzhou city, where Mr Qian blew himself up last week, three members of one family doused themselves in petrol and set themselves alight to protest against forced demolition.
On that day, as the family huddled inside, more than 100 people from the local construction bureau, housing bureau, land bureau, police and demolition companies converged on the house in an attempt to force them out, according to one family member who was present and spoke to the Financial Times.
“The officials threatened our lives and were so cruel; they didn’t treat us like human beings,” one family member said. “When my sister, mother and uncle doused themselves in petrol and went up on the roof we were crying and asking to go upstairs to save them but the officials blocked us.”
The uncle, Ye Zhongcheng, 79, later died in hospital while the mother, Luo Zhifeng, 59, and sister Zhong Ruqin, 31, were badly burnt but survived.
Government figures from 2006, the latest available, estimated that 3m farmers a year faced losing their land in the latter half of the past decade. But as the real estate boom sped up that number has risen and the situation has worsened, analysts and officials say.
In response, the central government has drafted, but not yet enacted, a new law aimed at ending the use of violence, intimidation and other illegal means for the forced demolition of homes.
Meanwhile, the forced demolition phenomenon has entered popular culture in surprising ways.
One of the most popular online games in China at the end of last year was called Nail Household Fighting Against Demolition Squad.
The name “nail household” refers to the Chinese term for people who won’t be hammered into place – residents who refuse to accept compensation and remain in their condemned home as their neighborhood is demolished around them.
In the game, the protagonist is given weapons and must defend a condemned four-storey building against waves of demolition crews.
No matter how skilful the player is, eventually the demolition crews are victorious and the house is demolished – as is almost always the case in real life.