Protests: “Great greed cannot be dealt with in one day, nor will the heart of Xian Village villagers die in one day.”

Over the past three years, Xian Village residents have protested and clashed with police on multiple occasions. In February, residents gave me a DVD with recordings of protests. Residents also posted copies on youtube and various Chinese  online video services.  Here I leave select screenshots from the videos given to me and links to videos on the web.  To download copies of the  videos from which the screenshots originate, visit the following links: Video 1 Video 2 Video 3

Videos dated August 19-21, 2009 show villagers protesting outside the Xian Village tower on Huangpu Dadao.

Posters spread across the government offices read, “Open up the village financial records and the village officials’ salaries and property. “

Villagers take turns giving speeches.

On August 13, 2010, protests erupted when demolition crews began to dismantle the village market. In this photo, hundreds of police stand guard as wreckers tear into the structure that once stood on Xiancun Lu.

In clashes with police, villagers throw debris into phalanxes riot officers. The man pictured above resisted and was beaten by a group of police before being dragged limply off camera.

“They beat the village, many were injured. They never negotiated with us.”

This man sits in the back of an ambulance, presumably injured in clashes.

The villager’s video ends with this message: “Great greed cannot be dealt with in one day, nor will the heart of Xian Village villagers die in one day. We have already accomplished our goal.”

Links to other videos published online and the SOuth China Morning Post’s coverage:

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A Vison for Xian Village’s Future, A Push for Development

"Establish a civilized city, Establish a harmonious Guangzhou." Xian Village, fall 2011

This series presents portions of a propaganda poster that appears at major entrances to Xian Village. It lays out an argument for Xian Village’s development, comparing Xian Village’s current condition to plans and architectural illustrations of the project. It is the most comprehensive design for Xian Village that I have seen so far. It provides layouts of sample villager apartments, a layout of public areas, and a plan for lineage hall and temple relocations.  It breaks down which areas will be preserved for villager residences (District A- see diagrams below), for the industries and real estate owned by the village cooperative (District B), and for land which I believe will be ceded to either developers or the city government (District C).   Below see portions of  the advertisement in detail along with full translations.  The poster lends insight into land ownership structures, the government’s vision for Guangzhou’s urban living environment, cultural preservation, and the steps taken to assuage villager concerns.

“The Future of Xian Village:” This poster’s background photo places Xian Village within the context of Guangzhou’s new Central Business District, Zhujiang New New Town.  The small text on the left reads, “ Construct a high quality life/ Together create a happy tomorrow.” The white box, titled, “”New Xian Village, New Future,” reads: “Tianhe Central Business District has already become Guangzhou’s hottest focal point, and this thus brought the rise in value of this piece of land, [Xian Village]. The beginning of a happy future for the villagers of Xian occurs on the basis of the smooth implementation of the renovation plan for old Xian Village.”

The photos on the left show “The Current Condition of Xian Village.” The photos on the right show “”Xian Village after Renovation.” The bullet point section, titled “With the replacement of the old with the new, values rise remarkably,” reads: -Villagers’ individual old houses will be replaced with new houses.- The Value of villagers’ residences will rise greatly. -During the renovation, villagers will receive according to the size of their home and surpassing current rental prices, 25 RMB per square meter per month, as if the [demolished] houses were still being rented out. – The problem of the schooling of villagers’ children has already been arranged for by the district government. Children can enter the New Xian Village Elementary School during the temporary moving period so that livelihoods may be protected.

Bottom left: “Plan of Results for Hotel and Commercial Area.” Right: “General Plan” Bullet points are titled, “Village Collective Economic Development will Expand, Villagers’ Lives will be better Safeguarded.” -Newly built 30,000 square meter hotel, newly added 200,000 square meters of underground parking space, will directly bring the whole village close to 55 million RMB in income annually. – The re-built  market will be on a bigger scale than the old market, villagers’ shopping will be more convenient and will bring  the village collective 12 million RMB in income annually. -In 57 mu (measurement of land area) of commercial and office space will bring 87 million RMB in income annually.

“Continue the Historic Style” -Continue the historic style, move the village’s lineage halls and temples. The original five lineage halls and one Tianhou Temple with deity facing many directions will be rebuilt in original locations or in a newly chosen place within close proximity. -Consider the villagers’ living habits, place lineage halls mainly within District A’s (Villager Residence District) green areas. -Lineage halls will be arranged on the district’s main road and on two sides integrated into the scenery or arranged  in two group along a corridor for viewing.” See one of Xian Village’s lineage halls. 

This panel outlines districts A, B, and C and details their specific uses. The northern road is Huang Pu Da Dao, the western road is Xian Cun (Village) Road, the eastern road is Liede Da Dao, and the southern road is Jinsui Road. “General Plan” “Principles of Placement Compensation” 1. All villagers are guaranteed to return placement within the original confines of the village. 2. Villagers with houses will be completely compensated on the basis of one square meter of compensation for each square meter demolished. 3。 Community shareholders and society shareholders and resettlement will be done consistent with standards.

This poster outlines the three types of areas, A, B, and C, which will occupy the new Xian Village site. From this posting it seems that districts A and B will remain under the control of the village collective. Properties in District A will be distributed amongst families, and District B’s properties will be rented out and managed by the collective corporation. The wording suggests that the village will cede ownership of District C. “ A District: Villager Resettlement district, uses 7.5 hectares, residences will form a complete set of floor space totaling 450,000 square meters. Buildings will have 33 floors and construction will include a kindergarten, lineage halls, and commercial space, all to provide villagers a top quality residential environment. B District: Villagers’ rebuilt property district, uses 2.6 hectares, the villagers’ apartments will have 140,000 square meters, a collectively owned hotel and collective properties of 30,000 square meters. Buildings will have 20-29 floors, and will provide for the ensured sustainable development of the village collective. C District: Financial District, capabilities include commerce, commercial service offices, apartment hotel, with the tallest building having 55 floors, this will form the district’s symbolic structure.”

“Many Different Apartment Types for Villagers to Choose From” This diagram shows the plan for the site of Xian Village. The colored areas, labeled “Residence choice 1-7” will be the new residences of villagers. The three deep orange buildings on the left are apartments which I believe will be rented by the village collective.

This diagram shows layouts for floors of the buildings that will eventually house villagers after the renovation. They depict two floor plans with apartments of varying floor spaces and number of bedrooms.

Left: “Settlement Subsidy”

一: Settlement Compensation Principles

  1. All villagers are guaranteed to return placement within the original confines of the village.
  2. Villagers with houses will be completely compensated on the basis of one square meter of compensation for each square meter demolished.
  3. Community shareholders and society shareholders and resettlement will be done consitstent with standards.

二: Many types of apartments will satisfy the need for choice amongst villagers.

三: Resettlement Times

According to Guangzhou’s “Three Old,” [a city wide policy for renovating urban villages,]  Renovation Office << Regarding Tianhe District Xian Village Renovation Plan Reply>> ,Xian Village’s entire renovation will be completed in 3.5 years.

四: Temporary Settlement Plan

(一)   Temporary Settlement Cost Payment Standards

(1) Those residences with proof of property rights   will be compensated a standard temporary resettlement fee of 25 RMB per square meter of their original property per month.  ;

Seeing that there remains for villagers the current difficulty of having no property to rent out, the city district renovation office is already coordinating  and supervising  the village corporation to formulate and fulfill the plan to compensate the villagers for their rental properties, to realistically resolve the villagers’ huge problems of temporary resettlement.

(2) Commercial storefront rental space will be compensated in line with the February 1, 2010 standard of 60 RMB per square meter per moth of temporary compensation.

(二)  Vulnerable groups will receive special attention during the temporary move.

Regarding the village’s elderly, families facing difficulty etc., the village corporation has already set reasonable and feasible specialized plans, they will take measures to take special care, including a proper increase in allowances.

Right: “Protective Measures”

-The renovation process will adhere to the principles of “Impartiality, fariness, and openness.”

-Introduced with force from the cooperative enterprise, quickly and effectively put through the renovation work to ensure resettlement within 3.5 years.

-Establish renovation fund account, adhere to a specific appropriation and specific funds. With the district government and streetside offices implementing supervision over the entire process, ensure that the project does not go unfinished.

-Village representatives, social structures, and governments of every kind will join forces and in every direction take part in the entire process’ supervision, and ensure the reconstruction and placement standards, and with order, we will smoothly bring it to completion.

-After the completion of Xian Village’s renovation, openness and engagement will have priority, and we invite the villagers, through training, to enter into the village corporation’s property management company, and take responsibility for management and every general affair regarding [the villager] residence district [within the new development.]

-Through talented and professional management, introduce upright industry, robust collective economy, impartial compensation of collective income, ensure villager’s equal enjoyment of the fruits of the renovation.

Postings Attempt to Unite Migrants Against Eviction

Translation: Each worker from every corner of the land! Hello! I am a student of law and I have lived in Xian Village for more than 10 years and witnessed Xian’s difficulties and hardships. Today all around the village are announcements conspicuously posted by the Xian Village Development Company, that require us to leave the village within 15 days, and require us to get entry-exit papers, or else not be able to enter the area. At this point there are these issues: I want to instill in everyone some knowledge of the law so that each person can receive the protection of the law. Xian Village now is merely a development corporation. No individual or company has the right to enter the area. Without a card inspection, the enforcement of the law will prevent or forbid any person from entering or passing through. According to the Constitution: Except for unexpected circumstances and crime scenes, in which the police must temporarily seal off an area, the army is forbidden from not allowing travel. In other places one can freely enter and pass though, every Chinese citizen growing up in the People’s Republic of China’s territory can freely stride, shuttling back and forth into every place within our domain, setting foot everywhere in our Divine Land. Now even our residence permits are canceled by force.即可办, 可不办, Volluntarily handle. . Our salaries are low, our housing is not ensured, there is now low-cost housing, we can only choose Xian Village, this 平宜 place to rent housing and sustain our lives. Migrant workers need a place to live, we need to subsist, we all have a right to choose our own lifestyle and living environment. The Xian Village Development Company’s method is a serious violation of the law! If they continue to use remodeling urban villages a pretext for affecting the lives of us migrant workers, we must all unite! We must use the law to arm ourselves! If you have a problem, pick up the phone and dial the police at 110 for help! “In our great country, all men are brothers.” I wish every migrant worker good health and a happy new year!

Loudspeaker announcement of evictions from Xian Village, Mandarin, Recorded January 12, 2012 3:34 PM

In January posters appeared around Xian Village attempting to rally migrants to oppose evictions. The author claims to be a migrant worker (外来打工者) and appropriates freedoms of movement granted in the Chinese Constitution to claim that the restrictions of the Xian Village Development Company are illegal.

As mentioned in my earlier posts, in January 2012, messages appeared around the village announcing the eviction of all migrants in Xian Village and the requirement that all those wishing to enter and exit would need a special entry-exit card. After most migrants left the village for the Chinese New Year, the regulations went into force. By February guards  restricted movement into the village to only permanent villagers.

In some ways it is surprising that villagers and migrants would come together to oppose evictions considering their distinct interests. While villagers have land rights and a share in the village’s collective profits, migrants, no matter the duration of their residency, can gain no such rights. Moreover, significant social divides exist between migrants and their villager landlords.  A sign outside the Elderly Activity Center forbids migrants from entry, as do other public spaces such as ancestral halls and schools. This poster below could represent the attempt of a migrant to rally others in his or her community. It could represent the attempt of a villager to rally the support of migrants to their cause. In either case, it shows a recognition that the two groups share a common interest.

The author broaches the important issue of a lack of low-income housing in China’s metropolises. While in the past, China’s resident permit system posed the largest barrier to movement into cities, in many places the market now prices out migrant residents. Urban villages make up some of the last enclaves of low income housing for migrants in central Guangzhou.  The development of one urban village can have a dramatic effect on nearby rents. A landlord in the neighboring Shipai Village 石牌村 told me that the announcement of evictions in Xian caused rents in his village to rise by 25%. Development of urban villages continues all around Guangzhou (Guangzhou’s “Three Old” Transformations), “Six Large Urban Village Transformations”).

By March 2012 it appears that few if any migrants remain in Xian Village. Now, the only remaining obstacles to development are the villagers who refuse to sign away their land rights. Without migrant tenants paying rents, it is unclear how long these villagers will hold out.

Xian Village Closed to Outsiders, Government and Villagers Reticent

In February I returned to Xian Village to find the area closed to outsiders. A wall surrounds the community and guards allow only villagers with a special entry-exit card to enter. The atmousphere amongst villagers appears to have changed as well. People once receptive now refuse to speak. After setting up a time to have lunch, my best contact called to cancel:

Villager: Peter, do not come to the village tomorrow.
Peter: OK, is anything wrong?
Villager: I am too busy. I will be busy for a long time.
Peter: Can we reschedule?
Villager: No, I will call you when I am not busy.

The villager later explained via E-mail that she feared her phones were tapped.

Later, while walking outside Xian, I greeted a group of villagers who I met months earlier.  They responded, “Now is a bad time to speak with you.” They passed smiling but without stopping.

With my lines of contact to villagers now closed, I began inquiries with the development company and local government offices.  China Poly Group, 中国保利集团 , a state owned enterprise,  is the main development company in charge of Xian’s reconstruction and management. Their office near the 猎德 Liede Subway stop performs administrative tasks related to villagers signing land contracts.  I visited the office unannounced last week, and a manager sat down to speak with me.  In a low voice, he asked for my student card and explained that the development of Xian Village is an important government goal. He would not talk about the ongoing development plans. He asked that I submit a list of questions and perhaps he could arrange another time to speak. I gave him my questions but I have yet to hear a response. This week I also made inquiries with the 天河区政府城中村改造工作组 or Tianhe District Government Urban Village Renovation Working Team. They refused to speak over the phone on the issue of Xian Village. I did not expect these inquiries produce strong results, but I wanted to make an attempt to hear their perspective.

Not every effort was fruitless. In trying to enter Xian Village I met groups of security guards who politely blocked my way but answered some of my questions.  One guard, an employee of the land management bureau of the district government, spoke to me at length. She is a recent local college graduate, and her parents are villagers in Xian. She says that her parents signed away their land two years ago and now wait for the development to continue to they can resettle into new apartments in the village. I asked if they were happy with the compensation. She replied that the remodeling of the village provides lots of money, but their family will no longer have income from renting apartments in their former building.  She lamented that the increasing value of village land, although creating much wealth, also creates the inconvenience of dislocation. “This is a strenuous  (吃力) time,” she says.

The security guard villager reveals the extent of division within the village population. On one side, villagers who have signed contracts wait for development to proceed so they can move back into newly built apartments.  While development stalls, each villager loses his or her share of potential revenues. Each month of delay represents a month of lost future rental income. On the other side, a minority of villagers obstructs the process, awaiting better terms and/or a reason to trust local officials.

Government Posters Address Villager’s Concerns and Push Development

In January 2012 a series of posters appeared on the walls of Xian Village addressing the issue of development. The posters, presumably printed by the local government or development company, recognize many of the concerns expressed by villagers. Adamantly, the government insists that 100% of the villagers will be returned to apartments within Xian Village. One poster dedicated to this issue shows construction plans and the exact area to be designated for villager buildings. Other posters address the issue of children’s schooling during the period of relocation and treatment of the elderly.  Many use Cantonese script rather than Mandarin as an attempt to reach older villagers who may not read or speak Mandarin well.

My earlier posts broach the issue of the return of property to the villagers after the renovation.  Mrs. Xian, a middle aged villager, noted that this is the main aspect of distrust that prevents her from signing away her property. Her distrust persists in the face of public guarantees and a contract that also guarantees the return of property. Still, posters are only posters, and the contract, as I mentioned in the earlier post, is written to grant wide unilateral powers of revision to the village government. Propaganda campaigns, regardless of their earnesty, cannot substitute for real foundations of trust such as accountable leadership, an independent legal system for settling disputes, and a dependable contract.


Wall Posters and Graffiti: Organization and Discontent

The pictures of posters and graffiti below reflect expressions of dissatisfaction over at least two years.  I will work to provide translations and summaries of the content as soon as possible.

“Bankrupt Credibility:” A villager describes her opposition to development

These past days I sat down with a villager in Xian Village who explained the complaints of her and her remaining neighbors-

I met Mrs. Xian on the village streets. She is a short ≈60 year old woman who has a piece of land down a small crooked alleyway and a multi-storied building which she rents out. She and her husband earn 5000 RMB per month through rental income. They earn 1,300 RMB per month through their share of profits from the village’s collectively owned land and enterprises. This roughly 200 USD per month supports the the couple and their two college age children comfortably.

The government’s plan for development will raze the entire village. In its place, a development company, contracted by the local government, will build a set of high rise apartment buildings for the villagers, and another set of residential and commercial buildings to be rented out by the village collective. Although the government does not provide housing in the construction interim, the government claims that all of the villagers will be returned to the village and given new apartments. In a future post I will outline the compensation plan. Villagers will continue to split the profits generated by collectively owned properties, which, if the plan is successful, will grow.

Mrs. Xian admits that the plan is attractive on its face, but she simply does not trust the local government’s honesty or its ability to carry out the plan. She fears the loss her rental income, the possibility that the village’s endeavors will not be profitable, and the corruption of the village officials.

The loss of her monthly 5000 RMB income is a pressing fear. Mrs. Xian and her husband are without skills and lack an occupation. Moreover, the government has not announced how the new apartments will be distributed amongst thousands of villagers. Mrs. Xian says she will earn roughly 100,000 RMB for her property under the agreement based on its size.  However, in the surrounding area, Mrs. Xian says, “One hundred thousand RMB would not buy a bathroom.” Indeed, in the surrounding high rise apartments, mere rental rates per month start near 60 RMB per square meter.

Mrs. Xian also has reason to doubt the promised success of the development project. Xian Village has traditionally earned fewer profits on its collectively owned enterprises than other nearby villages such as Liede Village and Shipai Village. Most importantly, Mrs. Xian does not trust the character and interests of the village’s management. Mrs. Xian cites a 2010 incident where  the village government sent hundreds of policemen to enter the village and beat protesters.

In pressuring villagers to agree to the development plan, the government has adopted heavy handed tactics. The village government  forced the eviction of all of Miss Xian’s tenants and is withholding her share of the village profits until she signs away her property. An article posted around the village (presumed to be from the Wall Street Journal, but more likely written by the villagers) accuses the village government of “…bullying, pressure, intimidation,
evil power, cutting of electricity and water, arson, abuse of police power, and illegal arrest.”

Mrs. Xian’s 18 year old son occasionally weighed in on our conversation. He said, “A democratic society is supposed to be for the people.” Mrs. Xian says that if she knew she would receive a new apartment and could trust the leadership, then she would immediately sign away her land, but that as it stands this is not the case.

Villagers prepare for a November 2011 outdoor feast meant to unite the community.

“A Compensation and Resettlement Agreement for Demolition and Overall Renovation in Xian Village”- contract for villagers to surrender land

A villager provided the below copy of the contract to surrender property for development. Villagers say that if the government were to carry out each provision of this contract faithfully, they would gladly sign and give up their land. Villagers often frame their argument in terms of a problem of trust and accountability rather than a lack of compensation. Indeed the contract itself, in principle meant to safeguard the rights of each party, grants broad leeway to the Guangzhou Xiancun (or Xian Village) Industry Limited Corporation, the company owned by the village government and tasked with developing village property.

Article 7 grants the village corporation the unilateral right to adjust the resettlement scheme: “Owing to the complexity and difficulty of Xiancun’s overall renovation, governments at all levels have given close attention and great support. As the representative of all the residents’ legal interests and an organ to execute the specific affairs, [the village corporation], with the primary goal to achieve the whole interests of Xian Village Collective, has rights to adjust the resettlement scheme and arrange for specific work. ”

Article 7 also states that if the signing villager creates any “disturbances” to the development project, such actions would constitute a breach of the agreement. Then, “…[the village corporation has rights to decide how to handle these matters (including that canceling all the welfares [the signing billager] enjoys in the renovation scheme as a Xian Village resident).” According to Article 7, not only can the village corporation unilaterally change the terms of the contract, a villager cannot protest the change for fear it be taken as a “disturbance,” in which case he or she could lose all benefits of the agreement.  To bring legal suit against the village corporation may constitute a “disturbance.” The contract does not even specify a venue for such suits. Instead, Article 8 states that when matters arise not covered by the contract or other regulations, “…[the village corporation] is entitled to make a decision as the case may be.”

In conversations over many weeks, villagers cited government sanctioned incidences of intimidation, false arrests, and arson among other efforts to pressure villagers to sign away their land. Against this backdrop, mistrust seems natural. One villager said he knew not to sign after he read the introduction, whose last sentence begins, “By negotiating equally, legally and out of free will Party A and Party B….”

Please see  below an English translation of the contract and pictures of the original. More postings will follow regarding the compensation outlined in the contract. Many thanks to the translator.


Village Government Recalls Book on Official Village History

In 2008, the Xian village government published a 474 page book on the history of Xian Village, its urban environment, political structure, economic activity and culture. The book is fascinating because it ties Xian Village’s modern urban development into the broader narrative  of its 800 years of history. The book has photos of farmland before the village’s development, lineage histories, plans of lineage halls, descriptions of public spaces, and an official account of the area’s  devlopment since the 1980s.

In 2008, the village government sold copies for 50 RMB. In 2010, amidst intense controversy over development plans that will raze the entire village, the government offered 2000 RMB for each copy handed back to the administration. A dissident villager named Mrs. Xian lent the book to me, saying, “I will never give it back to them.”  I had the book scanned. To download a pdf of the book in its entirety click this link: 冼村村志: The Xian Village Village Record.


Villagers publish article

This article appears on large posters on walls around the village. Titled, "Deciphering Xian Village," the article outlines a series of affronts perpetrated by the village government, including "bullying, pressure, intimidation, evil power, cutting of electricity and water, arson, abuse of police power, and illegal arrest ." The villagers ask, " much exchange occurs behind a black screen of nefarious deals? Do the upper level departments represent the interests of the village leaders or the people’s interests?" The villagers demand the publication of the village finances, new elections to choose a new group of leaders and new discussions on the subject of demolition. Interestingly, while the article claims to be excerpted from the Wall Street Journal, it appears with a People's Daily masthead. Judging from the style of writing, I suspect that the article was written by the villagers themselves, and made to look like a foreign publication in order to gain legitimacy.

Below, find a translation of the article. The translation is very very rough.  Translation of villager posted article