A recent case of forced demolition has raised attention to the protection of citizens’ rights and fair conflict resolution in China.
On 13 November this year, the forcible demolition of a private building, ordered by the Chengdu local government, led to the suicide of one of its owners, Tang Fuzhen, who poured gasoline and set fire on herself. The house stands in the way of a district government’s project to link two roads. Comparisons were made with a case that happened last year, where a woman in the Minhang district of Shanghai threw self-made petrol bombs at a demolition crew preparing to destroy her house, which is the site of a transportation hub for the 2010 Shanghai Expo.
Cases like these are known as ‘nail houses’, referring to homeowners who refuse to move from demolition zones, usually because of disagreement with the compensation offered. The most famous one was the Chongqing nail house case in 2007, when a Chinese couple reached negotiated agreement with the developer after 3 years of standoff.
In a recent blog post, well-known blogger Wuyuesanren (五岳散人) compared the peaceful resolution of the Chongqing nail house case with the violent incidents last month:
Wonder if anyone still remembers the ‘toughest nail house’. In that incident, though the demolisher and the demolished were in some kind of opposition, both sides still played by the rules. There were smiles and no real harm.
But judging from recent incidents, it seems that the patience of both sides had worn thin. The oppositions and the results were violent. A while ago, an internal speech of an official was exposed. The official mentioned that forced demolition is an appropriate action, and even stressed that it has to ‘create a situation of siege and massive pressure’ to the oppressed.
These examples show that conflicts between interested parties have reached a level that violent means are necessary. The stronger side, enjoying the favourable conditions, has no patience and sincerity to engage in negotiations. The other side, with much more to lose, could only resort to more violent methods in response. First they would petition, but now they are beginning to hurt themselves to attract more attention.
In an interview with the International Herald Leader, a Chinese official newspaper, he commented that China’s cases of forced demolition went through three stages:
At the beginning, the flow of pressure is one-way, from the oppressor to the oppressed. The mass media is not yet involved at this stage. In the second stage, the oppressed resort to petition and judicial means. In the third stage, they would hurt themselves as well as the oppressors. Sometimes, there might be collective confrontation or even self-immolation.
One blogger, Yao Hongen (姚鸿恩), talked about a nail house case in the US in his blog to contrast with those in China. In 2006, Edith Macefield turned down a US$1 million offer to sell her house to make way for a commercial development in Ballard, Seattle. After Macefield’s death, it was revealed that the house was willed to the new construction project’s superintendent, Barry Martin, for the friendship and care he has shown to the old lady during the construction.
Yao Hongen said:
The old lady did not employ a lawyer; she did not petition; she did not go to Washington to protest; and, needless to say, she did not make petrol bombs or set fire on herself. All she did was to say ‘No’ to the developer.
Among the comments that the post attracted:
新浪网友 (2009-12-06 13:59:47): 中国的小老百姓都是弱势群体，政府想拆就拆，才不管你以后有没有房子住！我们这儿政府就打着灾后重建的旗号，要修建商业街。要强行收回土地，要我们搬走。我们的房子可都是有土地证和房产证的！
Chinese citizens are the vulnerable. The state can demolish whenever they like, and would not care if you had no place to live later! Our government used banners like post-disaster construction to forcibly take away lands. But we do have the land and property certificates!
新浪网友 (2009-12-06 16:31:24): 开玩笑,在中国政府就是最大,执政者就是最狠,逆我者杀!
It’s a joke. In China, the state is the most powerful and the most ruthless. Those standing in the way will be killed!
新浪网友 (2009-12-06 13:21:37): 估计我的有生之年在中国史看不到这样的事情的
Guess I would not see such kind of things happening in China in my lifetime.
If I’m not mistaken, the incident with the woman in Minhang district in Shanghai who threw the Molotov cocktails happened last year, not this year. See the date on the footage aired on CCTV in the video at the end of this translation of a blog post on that incident from Han Han.
I think that can just be the issue with that DV machine. It was just few weeks ago that media reported on this issue.
I know it was reported just a few weeks ago, but friends of mine here in China say that it actually made the news last year, and that the woman has been in jail. I can’t verify that independently.
I think you are right… take this report by Southern Weekend as example. Clearly it happened in 2008! Why the media suddenly started to report on it now?
oh I know why now. Because a CCTV program “economy half hour” made a program on this on Nov 21 recently, leaving the reaction that it happened just now….interesting….
you can view that day’s program at here
Corrections made. Thank you!
I think it’s fair to say throwing molotov cocktail is not legal in US. Also even with Eminent Domain abuse in America, doesn’t seem to justify violence here.
It is not legal. But the question is if illegal things, and horrible illegal things are falling over you, and you have no channel to justice, what will you do?
Instead of the citizen’s interest, the urban development is a more important agenda for local government in China. Those officials’ political achievement is measured by how many skyscrapers or highways they build in the city, rather than how well they serve for each citizen. It is cruel, but the reality in China is that the collective interest is more important than private interest. That’s how we have been taught since kindergarten.
I feel so sorry for the suicide woman. She is a victim of the economy-driven urban development. But at the same time, we could see that Chinese people now have developed enough awareness to fight for our own rights. If the forced demolition happened in 10 years ago (actually it must have happened many times), people could hardly say “no” to the government.
And just because of several brave citizens like this woman fighting for their property rights, as well as the widely coverage by foreign and domestic media (this news was reported by three mainstream Chinese media, CCTV, Xinhua News Agency and People’s Daily), the central authorities have put the demolition problem in their agenda. According to Xinhua News Agency, five law experts of Peking University have suggested the National People’s Congress to repeal the existing demolition act. Let’s see how the central government will deal with it.