Photo: No Dust’s photostream
With just over two months to go until opening day, preparations for Expo have reach fever pace – unfortunately, among those preps are China’s famous “forced relocations.” While this ever-controversial method of spacemaking is not exclusive to the Expo, or even to special events, it has been Expo-related people-moving that has made international headlines most recently: a group of more than 200 Shanghai-based protesters marched on Beijing to fight against the forced demolitions of their homes.
Or tried to march. As it turns out, they were detained before they could even leave Shanghai. Still, their defiance is almost unheard of ’round these parts. The stories themselves, though far from uncommon, are laden with details that are unsettling, at best. The leader of the protests, 54-year old Han Zhongming, is candid about his situation. “My house was on the main site of the Expo. They waited until we left home one day and then knocked it down.”
It has been reported that new rules regarding relocation will soon take the place of the current set, in place since 1991, which allows the government to seize any land it wants with little or no compensation. Another ray of hope in the fight for property owners’ rights comes after artists who protested their forcible removal from a historic Beijing neighborhood were paid 5 million yuan for their troubles – in addition to the thugs who assualted them and vandalized their studios being arrested.
Unfortunately, any reform that might be in the pipeline will likely come too late for anyone who has been or is yet to be affected by Expo, which is without doubt – or surprise – the Chinese government’s highest priority at the moment. Also high priority: urban renewal projects not directly related to Expo but rather with the image the city will present to the world during it. In the city’s Yangpu district, an unknown number of lower-income people have been removed since 2008 to make way for a new “high-end business and residential area.” One resident, however, refuses to go without a fight: 55-year old Cheng Laifa, who hasn’t left his apartment in nearly two weeks, is subsisting on ramen and going to such extreme lengths as blocking out sunlight to prevent demolition. He’s also questioned the mechanism of removal itself:
The land is claimed by the government and then sold to developers. There are deals behind this. How can we expect the government to be its own judge and make fair decisions?
Unlike many of his comrades, Cheng was lucky enough to receive monetary remittance from the government, which is not required under current law. While he claims that the money simply isn’t enough and that the government should offer more from the supply end to offset his burden, Bo Haibao of Shanghai Finance University has a different idea:
To be fair, the government has already raised, to a large extent, compensation standards for homeowners. Compensation cannot be arbitrary and must be based on market valuation.
In order to bridge the gap between the current compensation standards and residents’ expectations, the government must try to cool down the real estate market so that people will be able to buy themselves an apartment with the money they receive
Wait, real estate in Shanghai is artificially-inflated? Stop the presses!
Sarcasm aside, it appears that post-Expo, the government will have no choice but to move forward toward reform at a more rapid rate than even. Before you go getting skeptical on us, consider a recent hell-freezes-over moment: government mouthpiece China Daily published an empathetic account of one family’s struggle to re-assimilate after being moved with more than 1.3 million others during the construction of the Three Gorges Dam.
Of course, neither this nor the compensation offers to the Beijing artists nor the nonspecific promise of future reform are unlikely to help people such Cheng Laifa or Han Zhongming. Still, it’s widely purported that the first step toward change is awareness and the Chinese government owning up to anything it’s done is a huge achievement in that department, so at this point we’re guessing no bets are off the table.