Monday, September 7, 2009

Joining a Chinese Protest Over Land Rights, Pt. 2

The next night on my way home I stopped by the village area to find the protest over. A fortunate break for the villagers - the local government leader had come today and agreed to meet in two days, cutting the protest short at noon. Once again they wanted to know if I had already eaten and if they could get me anything. Over an hour of chatting I learned more about the situation. They asked me where I was living, to which I responded that it was this apartment development, but I forgot the name. One of the main ladies I was chatting with said, “Xia Yi Er Yuan?” When I confirmed, she said, “That used to be our land.” Apparently, in 2004 the government bought that land, which was their farming land and now the development I was staying in. Without much land to farm what did they do for income? They built up their homes to rent out, but now the government was going after that land too.

The government did pay them for their farming land, somewhat. They received about 45 USD per square meter (really low), but the government only gave them the money in slow-coming increments, and two years after the development's completion they have still only received 75% of the money weren't happy with in the first place. The government expects them to find new homes on their own, or move in with relatives. Should they move further away from the city for cheaper housing, work becomes an issue without any land to farm and no city jobs. Staying where they are and they'll find their money buys much less house - then they wouldn't be able to sublet part of their home. It's a tricky situation, from what they are telling me at least. I asked why they don't just get knew jobs. One answer was simply, "We have no culture." Whether it was an easy cop-out excuse or a reflection of how the poor rural citizens are being left behind in the wake of China's urbanization, I'm not yet sure.

This conflict has made me realize how hard it is to cut to the core of an issue. It's hard to know who to believe, the establishment or those fighting it? And it's even harder to know when you are part of the establishment (the rich upper-class, at least) but can very easily sympathize with the poor. The two people I was talking to most that night were born and had grown up in the protesting village. Personally, regardless of the price the government was offering, I would feel betrayed by my country if a government official knocked on my door and told me I had to vacate my home which I had grown up in because it was needed for high-rise apartments that I would never be able to afford. I find this whole situation even more of a slap in the face given the demand for these high-rise apartments. Noticing the ghostly winds that blew through the complex I was staying in, one day I asked the security guard how full it was. Two years after completion, and not even 50% of the flats were filled. And these complexes were popping up like weeds in my yard (if you've ever seen my yard, you'd know). Hopefully I will be able to go back to Kunming to find out what happened, and do some more reading on the subject. I'll keep you updated.


  1. kind of reminds me of palm beach. its turned into a big empty concrete jungle. do you think that its truly done out of desire for a kick back, or do you think there is some logic to this keynesian spending?

  2. disturbing situation any way you look at it. i know YOU know to be extremely wary of governmental/political issues, and that THEY know who you are and where you are...the 'mother' in me made me remind you, because the hair on the back of my neck stood up when i started reading the last two posts. don't make me come over there and shake my index finger at you! you have other fish to fry and bridges to burn. love and hugs.

  3. I don't think the land is developed the way it is because of kickbacks, I think it's developed like it is because the government has a grand plan of modernization of China, where everything is planned and orderly. India is moving forward as well, but it's a big clumsy elephent instead of a nimble tiger - the country is a mess, things are unorganized, but people have their freedoms. In China, they are squelching freedoms in the name of order. It's a tradeoff. Right now, I think, China is setting up the infrastructure, and then forcing the people to fit this mold with sticks (oppressive laws such as few property rights) and carrots (cheap prices for goods, housing included, that are a result of the infrastructure changes). The kickbacks themselves, I would bet, come into play for the government officials to acquire the land at unreasonably low prices so that the developers can benefit (i.e. pay a little sum to the official in charge of getting the land, and get a lot of land really cheaply). But the kickbacks would be a non-factor without the government's grand plan in the first place. That's my assumption, but you might know better.