Old Beijing tries to avoid wrecking ball
Up to 1.5 million residents lost their homes to Olympics-related development, often with little compensation or choice. Defiant homeowners have seen their property trashed.
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Writing letters to officials and studying law so as to strengthen her arguments, she is hoping to take advantage of legislation passed last year that gives new protection to private property.Skip to next paragraph
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It won’t be easy. Officials generally follow administrative rules in demolition cases that do not conform to constitutional property rights, says Ms. Su, the legal expert. “Normally we do not recommend that people go to the courts,” she says, not least because judges are often influenced by the government.
The mere fact that Sun’s house is still standing, however, could be a sign of hope that some officials are prepared to respect the law at least in cases that attract a lot of public attention.
“New laws are definitely making it possible for individuals to fight for their own interests,” says Hu Xinyu, head of the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center, a government-linked group.
“These nail houses are sad stories,” says Wang Jun, author of a bestselling book on the loss of Beijing’s old neighborhoods. “But on the other hand they show that Chinese people are trying their best to protest and protect their rights. Really, that’s a good thing.”
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Can’t evict a homeowner? Try trashing the place.
Chen Shufen calls her restaurant “Prosperous and Harmonious World.” Not the sort of place where you would expect to find bullet holes in the window.
Ms. Chen, however, is resisting eviction by Beijing property developers who are playing rough, and she is paying the price.
It started with bricks through the window in the middle of the night. At about 3 a.m. on May 21, Chen says, her night watchman was surprised by a group of thugs who broke the restaurant’s picture windows and the glass door before fleeing.
The next morning, residents found that the brick throwers had dealt out the same treatment to all the neighborhood homeowners refusing to make way for an extension to a local hospital until they are paid the market price for their property.
Two nights later Chen’s husband was closing up just after midnight when four shots rang out. A steel ball bearing whizzed past his ear, she says. “He could have been killed.”
Around the corner, Wang Dazhi is having to put up with less violent but nonetheless extremely unpleasant harassment. One of only 11 hold-out homeowners in a traditional hutong that has been almost completely knocked down, she found her sewage pipe had been blocked last April. Municipal repairmen said there was nothing to be done.
Then she woke up one May morning to find that somebody had dumped tons of rubble outside her front door. That has since been augmented by trash of all kinds. “The smell is getting too bad for me to stay,” says Ms. Wang.
Up the lane, a resident too frightened to give his name has been living for three months with his wife and child in a room half open to the elements. When workmen knocked down the next-door house, he says “they destroyed the roof of my house. They deliberately did bad work so that we couldn’t live here and we’d have to leave.”
The families resisting demolition of their homes say they will go if they are properly compensated, but that so far the demolition company contracted by the hospital has offered only 10 percent of what it would cost them to buy an apartment in the neighborhood. A hospital spokeswoman refused to comment on the case.
One family caught two of the brick-throwing thugs in May and turned them in to the police. So far “we’ve had no explanation about who sent them,” says Cui Rujuan, a lawyer who is one of the hold-outs.
“I won’t say it’s the government that is breaking windows and robbing people, but that’s what has been happening since the hospital got the local government got involved last April,” says Ms. Cui. “A lot of ordinary people don’t dare fight the government, so 95 percent of them have left.”
“As individuals we can’t do anything,” laments Mrs. Wang. “We can’t fight against the government and the hospital. We’ll just have to sell our homes and move, or they will make us leave by force.”