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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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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.

 

“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.

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."