I believe that for anyone who personally experiences demolition and removal, this process is a nightmare. Even if the problem is eventually resolved — if the victim does not resort to self-immolation, suffer physical violence, or is not buried alive — the experience of constant resistance becomes a haunting nightmare.
There has been news recently that the Hangzhou home of the well-known writer Fu Guoyong (傅国涌) faces demolition. I called Mr. Fu up to ask him what the situation was, and it was clear his fate is identical to that of all others who have faced eviction. The developers seek to drive the original occupants away at the lowest possible price, and if you won’t budge, then you face removal and demolition by force.
Fu Guoyong’s term of residence at his home has clearly not expired, but he faces demolition because local authorities want to develop a large-scale commercial project along this stretch of the city center.
A recent report from Yangtze Commercial Daily made me break out into a cold sweat. It said that more than 400 villas in the Mahu District of the city of Wuhan, which had been occupied for less than five years, now faced a mass demolition. The purpose is apparently to build high rises so more apartments are available for city residents.
Just four years in a new development — that’s a younger residential district than the one I currently live in. And the buildings in my neighborhood aren’t tall either, just seven stories. Is it not conceivable that some day I too could be forced out of my home and see it demolished so they can put up high rises?
I am confident that the destruction of my own home is entirely within the realm of possibility. So long as real estate prices keep climbing up, China’s cities will continue to play this game of knock down and build back up. Younger and younger projects will go up one after the other. When those buildings that are 20 years old have all been wiped away, they’ll start on those that are just 10 years old.
Demolish the small and build them big. Demolish the short and build them tall. Demolish residential areas to build commercial properties. So long as there is profit to be had, the demolition will go on, until before long the storm of demolition will sweep everyone up into its arms.
Unless you have special powers and privileges as your disposal, this fate will be impossible to escape.
Sure, there is the Property Law. But all of those who have purchased commercial housing cannot guarantee the security of their property rights. After all, the land does not belong to you. You just live right on top of it.
The bricks and the tiles, those are yours, and the law is clear in this regard. But local governments don’t particularly care for all the laws and regulations concerning property rights. What they really care about are the demolition ordinances, those local codes that support the development of the real estate sector.
They don’t care about this law up there, or that law down there. As far as they are concerned, land-based finance is there lifeline, and the best decision they can make is to encourage the constant warming of the real estate market, progressively turning up the heat.
It goes without saying that where there is demolition there is dispute. Developers are all about going in low cost and coming out with high prices on the other end. They are very unlikely to satisfy the demands of residents, even if these are entirely within reason.
The backing for developers has always been strong, and now even large-scaled state enterprises have gotten into the business. They all say that violence is not necessary in the demolition and removal process. But when has the violence ever stopped?
There was once case of self-immolation in Chengdu in protest of a forced removal, but how many other cases are there that no one has ever heard about? In fact, right here in Beijing, not far from me, there have been quite a number of cases of self-immolation, all completely in vain.
The crooked real estate market we have in China today is a masterwork of collusion between property developers and local governments. The enforcement people who carry out these sentences against those who are removed and their homes destroyed, they are unlikely to consider the rights and interests of these victims. So what else can any of us expect?
But this game that singles everyone out as enemies, that does harm to us all — it’s inherent dangers are unimaginable. A home over one’s head is the most basic of hopes. If this hope is always gambled on the table, one can scarcely imagine the kind of opposition that would result.
While the current strategy and approach to demolition and removal is to tackle areas one by one, these actions will before long become more and more concentrated and frequent, and they will lead to much more unrest.
The profit-making impulse, this pair of magic shoes that cannot cease its stride, will ultimately carry the wearer off to a hell of their own making.
(The writer is a professor at Renmin University of China)
This editorial originally appeared in Chinese at Southern Metropolis Daily on March 19, 2010.
“SOEs barred from realty,” Global Times, March 19, 2010