Suburban land grabs – “We thought these things happen to peasants in the countryside”

A banner vows to sacrifice "our blood and lives" to save homes. Photo - Shiho Fukada for The New York Times

In a previous post on farmers in Lufeng protesting land grabs in Guangdong, I noted that land seizures are a particularly rural problem, in part because rural land tenure remains ambiguous and farmers often lack the knowledge, resources, and organization to resist.  But in a report by Andrew Jacobs on the land struggle underway at the Huaxiang World Famous Garden, a gated suburban development on the outskirts of Beijing, land seizures is not just a rural problem.  Nor are poor peasants the only victims.

“We thought these things happen to peasants in the countryside or voiceless city people with no education,” said Wang Jilin, 56, a retired pediatrician whose elderly parents and brother also built homes in the complex, which until recently had 41 households.  The clash would seem to suggest a new wrinkle in the seemingly ubiquitous fights over land that have become one of the most nettlesome challenges to the stability so prized by the ruling Communist Party. Last year, the government-run Research Center for Social Contradictions found that forced evictions, more than all other issues combined, were the driving cause behind the 180,000 so-called mass incidents — protests, riots and group petitioning — counted by one prominent sociologist in 2010.

Earlier this year, China Daily ran an article about the Research Center for Social Contradiction report:  “Measuring the amount of discontent generated by various social conflicts last year, demolitions and relocations scored almost 50 percent higher than all other factors combined.”  The article also pointed out that, “Economic loss caused by relocation compensation was the most serious effect because the compensation tended to be less than the value of demolished properties. About 36 percent of respondents said they had been given compensation plans well below market value.”  This appears to be the major issue at Huaxiang World Famous Garden as well:

On the face of it, the compensation in this case appears generous: 1.6 million renminbi, or about $252,000, for each household. Residents, however, point out that the figure ignores the differing values of each home. Some homes cost twice that, their owners say. But even the earliest arrivals, who paid the least, say the compensation does not take into account Beijing’s property prices. “For 1.6 million, you can’t even buy a bathroom,” said Mr. Gao, the retired taxi driver, whose koi pond, mature fruit trees and do-it-yourself additions attest to his hard work over the past five years. “If they force me out, I’ll be homeless.”

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