Villagers accuse China of land grab

Marketplace Staff Jun 26, 2008

Villagers accuse China of land grab

Marketplace Staff Jun 26, 2008


Bob Moon: It’s been just over six weeks since that huge earthquake heaved across China’s Sichuan province. It left an estimated 70,000 people dead and property damage near $20 billion.

Even as officials in Beijing promise to rebuild the region and help the 5 million homeless, local officials have been saying the way to move forward is to tear down much of what remains.

Many farmers see that as an excuse for a land grab that’s forcing them out of their homes.

Lisa Chow reports.

Lisa Chow: It’s hard to see any real damage in Xiong Guo Xiu’s house, at least on the surface. There are no big cracks, no tilted walls or columns. Her green tile roof remains intact. And yet village leaders say her house is in danger and she must move.

Xiong Guo Xiu: They’re using this opportunity to relocate us, sell our land, so that they can pocket the money.

It’s a common complaint among people who feel they’ve been steamrolled by China’s rapid growth and one notorious symbol for all of this is the Chinese character Chai, which means “tear down.” It’s sprayed on buildings to make way for new development.

Xiong: If they dare come to spray my house, I’m going to spray them with manure!

Xiong is not alone in her anger. In 2005, there were 87,000 mass protests in China and the Chinese government reported that many were linked to land seizures and evictions.

2,000 people live in Tan Mu village, where yearly per capita income is $635. Houses are separated by patches of green where rice, wheat and garlic grow. Most villagers were hesitant to talk to me because of potential retribution from village leaders. In fact, when I ran into Xiong’s husband, he denied knowing her at first. “She’s causing trouble,” he said.

Eventually one man, Zhang Guan Shuo, said his house had also been deemed unsafe.

Zhang Guan Shuo: If they want to demolish our house by force, they need supporting evidence that the house is in danger, but they didn’t do any official examination. They came, they didn’t walk in and they announced my house is in danger.

Zhang’s 80-year-old father Zhang Sun Yun mocked local officials in front of a growing audience of villagers.

Zhang Sun Yun: They play cards all day and they gamble for big amounts of money. But where do they get the money? They only know how to bully farmers. They don’t listen to the people.

So I pay a visit to the most powerful person in the village: party secretary Chen Fan Fu.

Chen Fan Fu: We had eight experts come from all over China. If the farmers don’t agree with the determination, they can have their own experts examine the house.

Chen points out that the dreaded Chai character hasn’t been sprayed on any houses yet.

Chen: The government is responsible for people’s safety, So we village leaders will try our best to convince them to move, and if we fail, then higher officials will come.

Chen says before the earthquake, he was pushing to move farmers into community housing and lease that land to businesses and farmers would get paid rental income. His plan failed to win the necessary support, but now it appears the earthquake may help Chen get what he wants.

In the middle of our interview, a woman frantically walks into Chen’s office. She says one of the local officials asked her to sign a document. The village leader Chen explains that it’s an application for temporary housing. But looking at the document, it reads, “I agree to have my house dismantled.”

When pressed, Chen said, “No, this is merely an application for temporary housing.” And yet, at that point, he politely ended the interview.

In Tan Mu village, I’m Lisa Chow for Marketplace.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.