Destruction: The Violence Goes On
A program detailing the history of the now infamously evicted Song family was recently broadcast on the Sina News network . The program included photos, showcased items from within their barricaded home, and introduced their German shepherds with cameras positioned at almost every angle. In Changsha, Song Wenchao has lived at 527 Xiangchun Street for 50 years, but his home is now slated for demolition. The seven Song siblings inherited this family home together but are unhappy with the compensation offered by the government for the destruction of their house, which amounts to 60,000 yuan per person. For three years, Song Wenchao and his brother have been keeping an eye on their home 24 hours a day to protect it against demolition, barricading themselves in their “nail house” as a precaution (钉子户 dingzihu, literally translated as “nail house”, refers to a home wherein the residents refuse to leave to make way for new construction, forcing builders to elaborately construct around their property, leaving it standing alone as a single “nail”). Although they have prepared themselves for violence, they are also still open to negotiating with developers. According to Chinese law, the family is entitled to request an increase in compensation.
As presented by Caijing, the case of Li Jie’e is rather different. Her village, Yangyi in Guangzhou, was purchased by the developer Guangzhou R&F Properties for 4.73 billion yuan at a fixed auction. Guangzhou R&F Properties was the only bidder. But the village was not legally for sale because a land use agreement had not been obtained from the State (a requirement under Article 43 of the Law of Land Management). Li Jie’e’s home was rebuilt by her former husband, but the work had not been approved by the government and the certificate of land use had not been renewed. With no way of proving her right to his property at the moment of the re-purchase of the lands, Li Jie’e was left homeless, without any claims to compensation. Tragically, she committed suicide 50 days after the demolition of her home on May 9.
These stories are becoming increasingly frequent. A new article and pictures come out each week, broadcast on Weibo or in the newspapers. Are these isolated events or are they representative of a larger trend shared by many residents? There are no statistics from the Chinese authorities. Some NGOs, such as the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions have published some information on the subject. In addition, some individual initiatives, such as the “Bloody Real Estate Map” are also trying to identify and publicize violence related to expropriations across China. However, verified and reliable data on the subject remains quite limited.
The improvement of standards and judicial regulation for evictions and destructions, as well as the recognition of property rights and individual interests, have given homeowners more leverage in protecting their rights and increased compensation—especially in big cities like Shanghai. However, as the persistent numbers of forced demolitions and the victims of violence from thugs hired by developers make clear, abuses remain frequent and laws inadequate. Further exacerbating the problem is the lack of an independent judiciary system, the inefficiency of petitions (in 2003, 70% of petitions were regarding forced evictions), and a lack of enforcement of the existing national standards.
Lawyers for human rights and housing rights are themselves chased and harassed for their activism. For instance, since 2001, the lawyer Ni Yulan has been frequently thrown in jail for trying to defend her neighbors, victims of forced evictions, before becoming a victim herself. The undefended owners often must go to great lengths to defend themselves, lawlessness responding to lawlessness, like the Song family “militia” who are in the throes of fighting the demolition, the developers and the authorities. Others commit suicide as a final act of despair, each one participating in a vicious circle of violence.