Everywhere in China, local development is in full swing – but so are wrecking balls. Economic development fever has spread to every corner of the country, and “GDP growth” now represents the Holy Grail for all local governments. Many government officials are doing everything they can to attract investment, even if it means sidestepping written rules and regulations. Demolition of existing homes and forced relocation are being carried out in the most brutal, and often illegal, fashion -- and compensation for the displaced is almost always inadequate. Outraged and despairing citizens are increasingly willing to defy the government by jeopardizing their own lives, or worse, those of innocent victims.
The list of Chinese people who have committed desperate acts after being treated callously by local authorities is endless. In December 2009, Tang Fuzhen, a woman from the southwestern Sichuan Province, burned herself to death following the forced demolition of her home. In September 2010, three members of the Zhong Rujiu family in southeastern Jiangxi Province poured gasoline over their heads because of a bungled compensation deal. On May 26, a disgruntled farmer set off a series of explosions in Fuzhou, Jiangxi Province, which shook the prosecutor’s office, a government office, and the district food and drug administration building.
Over the past few days, micro blogs in China have been buzzing with the story of Chen Feng, a horticultural farm owner in southeastern Guangdong Province who is supposed to have cut off a demolition agent’s head and then committed suicide by taking poison. Even though one can read nearly every day about tragedies like this caused by the forced demolitions and expropriations carried out everywhere in China, this story was still shocking to read.
Innocent victim, twice over
After closer verification, however, it appears that the facts are slightly different from those being circulated by micro-bloggers. The incident actually happened in late January, just three days before the Chinese New Year. The victim, Yang Yi, was a ranger working for the local nature reserve, and not a demolition agent. It also appears that Chen Feng had been renting a piece of land from the local reserve for five years and had been told three times by authorities to leave his land and move away. According to the Guangzhou Daily, Chen Feng had requested to move after the Chinese New Year so that he would have enough time to sell most of the unmovable trees and flowers on site, but his request was refused.
This is a double tragedy in which the desperate victim of a forced demolition decided to take revenge for his loss by killing someone who had absolutely nothing to do with the eviction decision.
One cannot but think that, had the decision-making procedure in this case been more humane, or had Chen Feng been more rational, the tragedy could have been avoided. But wondering what might have been, like people often do whenever such tragedies occur, does not bring us any closer to a real solution.
As long as forced demolitions are arbitrarily imposed, and local governments continue to act despotically, violent protests will continue. Authorities must acknowledge that they bear a lot of the responsibility, and that, if governmental officials in Sichuan had not been so barbaric, Tang Fuzhen wouldn’t have burned herself to death; if the Jiangxi governmental officials had not been so cold-hearted, the three Zhong Rujiu family members would not have poured gasoline on their heads, etc.
When governmental officers initially said, “Demolish so we can construct a New China,” they failed to understand that this New China based on forced relocation would be full of blood and tears.
Those who are forced to leave their land and homes can’t be expected to just swallow their sorrow and anger. Confronted with forced demolition, it is normal that people try to negotiate and petition in order to protect their rights. When this fails they turn to anger and vent that anger through desperate or violent acts. Some choose suicide. But there are also those who resort to physical violence against others. And this then triggers general terror.
From protest that causes physical injury to protest that unleashes terror, the proliferation of these kinds of incidents is raising alarm bells in the government. What it means is that the ongoing policies are not just a matter of conflicting benefits or of governmental authority over people’s rights, but something that can undermine social stability. If corruption can shake the foundations of the country, conflicts sparked by forced demolition are probably even more lethal – they could spell the end to all legitimate sources of political power. Even if the New China is built with a wrecking ball, surging hatred and indignation can bring it all crumbling down again.
Read the original article in Chinese.
Photo - Sam Sherratt