In a shameless play for cash, authorities declared a neighborhood a shantytown and called for the destruction of the homes, despite the pleas of residents.
It’s bad enough that Chinese government officials can sweep into a town and declare buildings and homes illegal, to suit their whimsy – and it’s worse when they then persecute the rightful owners for merely defending their property.
But that’s precisely what authorities in Aojiang town of Pingyang county, under the jurisdiction of the prefecture-level city of Wenzhou, in eastern Zhejiang Province did.
Wubanqiao village, under the jurisdiction of Aojiang town, is a commercial area surrounded by high-rise buildings where citizens have spent more than ten years building and furnishing their houses – some have three or four stories. But then, in July 2018, and seemingly out of nowhere, Gao Youshun, the secretary of Wubanqiao village, deemed the village’s residential area a “shantytown” – in other words, homes that are severely damaged or dangerous – and reported them to the Aojiang town government, which ordered the demolition of houses.
About half of the houses, roughly 900, were designated by the government as “unauthorized” buildings. Each household was offered compensation of less than 100,000 RMB (about $14,900) when, according to industry insiders, the homes, based on market prices, were worth 500,000 RMB (about $74,500).
The demolitions began in August, but the residents weren’t going down without a fight. By November 2018, they’d raised more than 2 million RMB (about $298,000) to hire a Beijing-based legal team to file a lawsuit for them. But when Wenzhou People’s Court started the proceedings, for some unknown reason, the lawyers hired by the villagers didn’t dare to say anything. The large sum of money spent on the attorneys’ fees was thus squandered.
Villagers protest against the forced demolition of their houses:
According to informed sources, on the morning of the court hearing, more than 100 villagers were on their way to Wenzhou People’s Court when they were pulled over by the police on the highway and taken to the Aojiang Town Police Station.
“It is useless for you to appeal to the higher authorities,” a police officer said aggressively. “All of them are our people. You can file lawsuits all you want, but you will always end up here with us.” They were interrogated one by one. Some villagers were afraid of being detained, so they had no choice but to compromise and drop their appeal and were released that evening.
Afterward, the villagers went to Pingyang county to seek justice, but the county government refused to hear their case.
According to the villagers, the homes were relatively new with no quality issues and were marked with house numbers uniformly issued by the government. They had regular water and power supply account numbers, and each residential area had a name assigned by the government.
“If these houses are all unauthorized buildings, then why did the government allow them to exist for so many years?” one villager asked.
In response to the villagers’ appeals, on January 14, 2019, local officials, accompanied by some electricians and 50 security guards carrying shields and long iron rods, showed up at the village. The electricians were then instructed to cut off water and electricity supply and remove electricity meters in the houses. This operation lasted for a week.
Faced with impending forced demolitions, some villagers accepted the compensation of less than 100,000 RMB and left their homes. Some houses were forcibly demolished even before the owners received compensation. For villagers who refused the government’s conditions, their houses were damaged, like smashing holes in the walls or dismantling a staircase. Some protesting villagers were beaten and injured by security guards; others were arrested and detained.
When a 70-year-old villager scolded the village secretary for turning off his electricity meter, he was taken to the local police station and detained for 24 hours. After another villager’s newly furnished house was demolished and she hadn’t received any compensation, she sought an explanation from the government, but she was threatened to be arrested instead and was forced to go into hiding.
The government hired people to demolish residential houses forcibly:
Some elderly villagers were unwilling to leave their houses. So, when evening falls, they use a candle or flashlight for light. They also bought a few large buckets to bring water. Villagers report that local officials use informers to monitor them every day.
According to sources, the forced demolitions came as a result of the sharp rise of land prices in the area, and the government is seeking to develop real estate here to reap huge profits.
Reported by Zhao Mingzhe