“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.

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