Monthly Archives: February 2012

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.