The Party of the People

A frightening story by John Pomfret explores China’s policy of evicting poor citizens from their shacks or small homes to make way for development.

On Aug. 22, Weng Biao was preparing to buy a lunch of steamed fish and pickled vegetables for his wife when officials from the government Office of Demolition showed up at his family’s two-room shack in a small field slated to become a shopping mall and ordered him to come with them.

A 39-year-old part-time laborer with a bad leg, Weng limped to the office 200 yards away. Minutes later, several other officials barged into Weng’s house, took a jerrycan of gasoline and forced his wife, 11-year-old son and 74-year-old father outside. A bulldozer arrived and knocked down the house even though local residents had been given until Aug. 30 to leave the area, witnesses and Chinese reporters said.

It gets worse. Weng is somehow doused in gasoline, lit on fire (apparently accidentally; several officials with him were burned as well) and killed.

Pomfret delves into how peasants who protest their evictions are imprisoned, as are their lawyers. As always in China, there is a single root of all evil:

Widespread corruption is the main factor fueling the real estate war in China. Local government officials, factory bosses and other Chinese in positions of power sell the rights to use chunks of land to developers for a low price plus a hefty kickback. They then collude with gangs to oust villagers or urban residents of the area. The compensation paid to those residents, if any, is often a fraction of what the property is really worth.

When the Party is the government, the courts, the media and the police, there’s no where to turn, and corruption becomes the norm. There’s a lot of glitzy new malls and office buildings in nearly every city in China. It’s intriguing to learn the dark side of how these splendid creations came to be.

Update: Another article on a very similar theme just came out, equally depressing.

The Discussion: 3 Comments

Just stating the obvious … had 911 not happened, the world would have ever greater knowledge of what really goes on in China, day to day.

September 14, 2003 @ 8:20 pm | Comment

All very true, and all very horrible. The problem I’m having Richard is balance. I’m sure the horror stories about how people are executed for the ‘real estate’ value of their organs probably also has some basis in reality. But all of this reminds me a lot of what I read in Europe about Africa.

I’m sure neither you nor I like Fox. We could think about why. The problem I’m having, is that talking to people from and in China, I notice some good things are happening too.

Do most people in say the US have stronger ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ stereotypes about China. We aren’t journalists but we do share some of their responsibilities.

From time to time we could dwell on the positive things, and try and help them work.

I see you’re away, but the ‘mystery’ SARS case has resurfaced again today. I’m linking your earlier piece.

September 15, 2003 @ 11:21 am | Comment

Edward, I have nothing positive to say about the CCP. As I’ve said before, they are the evil empire. We can point to Mussolini making the tains run on time or Hitler’s building the autobahn or Stalin’s pulling Russia into the age of industry or Mao’s liberating women. But those things are submerged in the overall waters of one-man rule and repression.

Most media coverage of China nowadays is glowing. Reports of success far outweigh those of failures. So I have tried to provide some balance and tell what I think the real story is. For some reason, the human rights atrocities are the elephant in the corner that nobody wants to talk about. For many reasons, some of which I can’t go into now, I want to mention them. Blogs are not necessariy about balance, but about how we see things. Were they not opinionated, they’d be pretty boring. (If we are prejudiced and distorted, we probably won’t get an audience, or at least will not have much credibility.) In other words, there is no reason why, for every negative article I find about China I need to post a positive one to balance it. I am sorry, but I refuse to balance my point of view about China and human rights because it is an unbalanced topic — I saw the footage of Tiananmen Square, I learned what they are doing to AIDS patients, I see how the little guy is always treated there, and there is no balance to be had — as in all one-party systems, where there is almost no hope of accountability, corruption and repression are the norms.

Got to go present. Later.

September 16, 2003 @ 3:04 am | Comment

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