The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail — its roof may shake — the wind may blow through it — the storm may enter — the rain may enter — but the King of England cannot enter — all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!
William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, Speech on the Excise Bill, House of Commons (March 1763)
However, more than 200 years later, in China, people’s right to housing is still not protected. A very recent report titled Standing Their Ground: Thousands Face Violent Eviction in China by Amnesty International shows that forced eviction in China has been in ‘significant rise’ in recent years.
According to the General Comment 7 of the Convention for Economic Social and Cultural Rights, forced eviction is the “removal against their will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land they occupy without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection”. Every year, in China, thousands of people have to leave their homes or land that are expropriated for building new factories, apartment buildings, commerce centers, highways … in short, for a continuous growing economy. It is often that evictees are unable to get appropriate compensation for the loss of their houses and land. Being discontent with the compensation and lacking of access to legal remedies, many refuse to move and become ‘Dingzihu’, fighting against forced demolition and eviction. “Dingzihu” literally translates to ‘nail household’, meaning a household or person who refuses to vacate their home to make way for real estate development.
Nevertheless, ‘nail household’ residents can not really stand their ground for long since they are occasionally harassed by hired thugs for thefts, power cutting etc. and have to retreat, or even thrown out of their houses at night and houses are bulldozed afterwards. Without access to justice and being so desperate, some evictees adopt self-immolation to express their grievance and anger. Between January 2009 and January 2012, 41 self-immolations caused by evictions happened across China, documented by the Amnesty International Report.
The central Chinese government is not unaware of the problems relating to land expropriation and house eviction. In early 2011, the State Council passed Regulations on Expropriation and Compensation for Houses on State-owned Land. However laws on written words are not always implemented in reality. While maintaining social stability and economic growth being the priority of local governments, the basic right to housing and land, and their related rights, e.g., the right to family life, the right to life, and the right to protest, have all been ignored and even abused. The report documented at least three death occurred even after the coming into effect of the new Regulation:
On the night of 26 March 2011, demolition workers forcibly removed residents from an apartment building in Changchun city in Jilin province, and then knocked it down. A 50-yearold woman named Liu Shuxiang resisting eviction was trapped in the building and killed. Police detained 11 suspects for investigation, including the manager of the demolition firm.182 In March 2012, state media reported that six men who worked for a real estate company and demolition company involved in the eviction were imprisoned for manslaughter. They each received prison sentences of between three and five years.
On 13 May 2011, hundreds of demolition workers descended on an apartment complex in Lianyungang city in Jiangsu province where about 15 families were resisting eviction. One resident, Lu Zengluo, died after a confrontation with demolition workers in his second-floor apartment. Relatives and neighbours said workers beat him with a steel pipe and burned his body to cover up evidence of the assault. Some family members called the police, who took half an hour to arrive at the scene, even though the police station is just minutes away from the site. Both a family member and a former neighbour told Amnesty International that Lu had never received official notice to vacate his apartment. Family members cannot find justice, as the local government has declared the case closed. Local authorities described the incident as a “case of unusual death,” saying Lu set fire to his own apartment, and made no arrests.
In September 2011, Xue Jinbo died in police custody in Wukan, Guangdong province. He had been leading protests against forced evictions.
The following is a documentary about Wukan Villagers’ fighting for their land right (with English and Chinese subtiles).