20101207 schmitz1 23
Villages throughout China are vanishing, thanks to a rise in land grabs on the part of city governments. It's being fueled by an eagerness to boost local economic growth (GDP) through urban development. - 


Kai Ryssdal: Our man in Shanghai Rob Schmitz did a story a couple of months ago about local governments there taking peoples houses -- evictions, demolitions and all -- as cities spread out into the surrounding countrysides. Now Beijing has approved new rules meant to give people at least a chance at getting some compensation when that happens.

Here's Rob.

Rob Schmitz: The Chinese constitution devotes just one sentence to the issue of seizing somebody's land.

Li Ping: "Government may take the private property for the needs of the public interest."

Li Ping's an attorney in Beijing for a property rights advocacy group called Landessa. He says local governments have taken advantage of the constitution's vague legal language to seize thousand of homes, demolish them and profit off the redevelopment of the land. Many people have been left with nothing. They also have nothing to lose. More and more are resorting to violence.

Li: A lot of such kinds of bloodshed activity and incidents occurred that possibly aroused the attention of the central government.

Beijing's new rules include compensating home owners based on a fair market value, requiring a judge to issue decisions on evictions, and if people still aren't happy, local officials will be forced to negotiate. Li says it's an historic change.

But don't tell that to Ding Hongfen. The city of Wuxi on the Yangtze Delta just demolished her home.

Ding Hongfen: These new rules won't help until the central government starts reigning in local government officials. I don't think these local emperors are going to enforce these laws.

Ding's husband was just released from prison after being arrested for "obstruction of justice." She says all he was doing was protesting the government's seizure of their home. Lawyer Li Ping agrees that local officials will probably drag their feet implementing the new legislation, but he thinks the new laws could be a powerful tool for those who lose out in China's rapid development.

In Shanghai, I'm Rob Schmitz for Marketplace.

Follow Rob Schmitz at @rob_schmitz