Monthly Archives: January 2012

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

Police and village officials go door to door

Police on the right, village government employee on the left

There's nothing to see here...

Checkpoints like this one at each entrance to Xian Village will check visitors for a special "entry exit card."

Police and village officials began going door to door over the past few weeks, registering tenants and landlords who remain in the village. Each village census official is accompanied by a police officer, who according to one villager I spoke with, is meant to ensure the census taker’s safety. In turn, the village census taker with whom I spoke, told me that the census is meant to ensure the villager’s safety in case of disaster.

Two days ago the village government erected small buildings at each entrance to Xian Villages. Only those with a special “entry exit card” will be permitted to enter the village.


Moving Out

Residents leaving with belongings through the southwest gate of Xian Village. Authorities timed the eviction to coincide with the Chinese New Year, the traditional time when migrants will return to their family home to spend upwards of a month. The propaganda poster with smiling faces reads, "With one heart and mind take action Together build a civilized Guangzhou City."

Residents prepare to move. Two children guard piles of belongings while the father makes trips up and down the stairs.

Everything must go! Store owners post black and white posters that announce how many days until the owners leave.

On December 25, 2011, posters appeared around the village announcing that all stores must close. The tenants of stores, given only fifteen days notice, must  move, sell, or give away their products and abandon all investments in their property. I met one small restaurant owner who, after renovating six months ago, will leave this week and lose much of the investment. While the villagers who have property rights will receive compensation, albeit limited, migrants receive no compensation for the costs of moving or other losses.

The cumulative effect  of urban village development in Guangzhou is to push migrants out of the inner city entirely.  On January 6th I met a young man from Hunan Province who was preparing to return home for the Chinese New Year Holiday. He said that rent for a single room in Xian Village is 3-400 RMB per month, but that when he returns to Guangzhou after the holiday he will have to pay 5-600 RMB to find housing in one of the surrounding area. The development of Xian Village will effectively raise the housing cost of thousands of migrants by 1-200 RMB per month or force them into less central areas. In this way, the market, rather than hukou (official household registration system), becomes a larger barrier to rural-urban migration. Much of this blog focuses on the conflict between villagers with property rights and the local government which seeks to purchase those rights, but it is important to remember that the migrants receive no entitlements or considerations.

Views of Xian Village from above

Xian Village from the 16th floor of the Chun Du Hotel, Huangpu Dadao, facing southeast

View from Chundu Hotel, Huangpu Dadao, facing south

Xian Village is not labeled, but it is the entire city block in which you see the lake.

Xian Village by satellite. The apartment developments at the bottom are similar to those which will occupy Xian Village under the proposed plan.

Xian Village lies within Guangzhou's new Central Business District. Surrounded by modern shopping malls, 100 story office buildings, and modern apartment developments, Xian Village and its hodgepodge of slumlike alleyways sit on valuable real estate.

From above, it is easy to understand the motivations behind Xian Village’s development. Xian Village lies walking distance away from Guangzhou’s new Opera House, Provincial History Museum, new library, Ritz-Carlton, Westin Hotel, Four Seasons Hotel, six 100 story office buildings nearing completion, and an expansive park. In contrast, in Xian Village, sunlight light squeezes through the cracks in between poorly planned buildings and barred windows.

Yet as propaganda posters praise the value of sharing in development and harmonious growth,  it is uncertain who currently living within Xian Village’s newly constructed walls will have the opportunity to enjoy the future space.


Images of Xian Village

Upper: Foreground- rubble from earlier forced demolitions. Middle- buildings vacated by villagers who have signed away their land. Rising in the background- high rise apartment developments, the kind which may eventually stand in Xian Village’s place.

The streets of Xian Village. Buildings canopy over the alleyway and trash flows from empty buildings.

The government builds walls, evicts migrants, life in village becomes more difficult

On December 25, 2011, a new set of official announcements appeared on walls all around Xian Village. The announcement proclaimed that all migrants living within Xian Village would have to leave Xian Village by January 9, 2012- within 15 days. The announcement also proclaimed that all streetside commerce would forbidden. At the same time, construction crews surrounded the village and began building ten foot high walls surrounding the entire village and limiting traffic in and out to a handful of tightly monitored gates. Other announcements proclaimed that after January 9th, only those with an entry and exit card, granted by the Xian Village Development Company, could enter the village.

In early January I visited Xian Village and spoke with migrants and villagers about the upcoming eviction and related regulations. Three wheeled carts crowded the village streets carrying away people’s belongings. A migrant from Hunan province told me that the new regulations are taking place now, as the Chinese New Year approaches, because migrants are already preparing to leave to return to their home towns for the New Year Festival. He said he would return to Guangzhou after the festival, but that he would have to move to a place less centrally located. He says rents for a single room in Xian Village are 300-400 RMB per month and outside the village will be 500-600 RMB per month.

Next I met a 60+ year old villager who grabbed my arm and brought me to one of the new walls surrounding the villagers. As a group of policemen stood nearby, she screamed, using me as an excuse to vent to the police),  and described the ways in which the village government is attempting to coerce those living in Xian Village to leave. She said the walls were meant to monitor traffic into the village and to make life difficult for residents, many of whom would have to walk twenty minutes out of their way to exit and enter through the new gates. She says that the walls turn the village into a fire-trap, exacerbated by demolition debris and trash scattered in the village. The eviction of migrants is meant to eliminate the rental income of landlord villagers and thereby entice them to sign agreements ceding their land. The removal of food and grocery vendors will starve many of the remaining villagers, some of whom are too old and week to walk outside of the village to buy goods.


Vacated buildings rise within Xian Villages new wall. Propaganda posters read, "fair and equal, conducted according to the law, reasonable compensation, untied subsidy policy (poor translation), the earlier villagers sign away their land, the greater the benefit."