The part-demolished pharmacy. Photo by Roseann Lake.
Since China's economic boom in the 1990s, modernising cities has been a top priority for the government. Such is the rush, that thousands of citizens have been forcibly evicted from their homes by demolition squads in an effort to expedite new construction. But not all of them go without a fight...
The government has been eager to promote the country's image abroad by dazzling visitors to the Olympic Games and the 2010 Expo. But its modernisation programme has not always received a warm welcome at home.
The Urgent Action Working Group, a China-based rights lobby group, recently released a report warning that the country risks growing social instability and violence if the government does not address escalating public anger concerning forced evictions and demolitions.
Some residents, known as dingzihu, or "stubborn nails", refuse to give up their homes, resulting in violent show-downs with demolition squads. Two people burnt themselves alive last year and others have been killed fighting the demolition squads with homemade explosives.
Hope in sight?
Amendments recently adopted to the Law on State Compensation will, once they come into affect on 1 December this year, grant citizens greater power to obtain compensation when their rights are violated by the state. But a poor track record for compensation - out of the 1,531 applications for state compensation filed last year, only one third obtained a favourable ruling - inspires little hope for the residents of China's numerous burgeoning cities.
Artists zone in north Beijing targeted
In Beijing, one of the areas currently targeted for reconstruction is a village called Beigao, located in north-eastern Beijing. Not only does the area lie within the capital's expanding centre, but Beigao is located next to the artist village of Caochangdi, which the government seems keen on getting rid of.
In April, residents of Caochangdi and Beigao were given eviction notices announcing that the area would be demolished. While reasons for the sudden destruction remain a convoluted cocktail of government interests and suspected attempts to quash a flourishing centre of artistic expression, one thing is certain: demolition has begun. But one man, a pharmacist from Beigao, is resisting.
“Everything around us has been destroyed to make us hurry up and accept”
Xiao Chai is a 21-year-old who lives and works at the pharmacy owned by the "stubborn nail".
We heard rumours about the destruction of our village about a year ago, but nothing was officially confirmed until 30 April this year.
Compensation is negotiated on an individual basis, and our neighbours have already accepted the terms (some of them even plan to move back into the new homes that will be built). The pharmacy however, hasn't agreed yet, so everything around us has been destroyed to make us hurry up and accept.
The buildings next to the pharmacy were ripped down, and then they made two enormous holes in the pharmacy walls.
Photo by Roseann Lake.
We didn't get any notice; they just came with a bulldozer claw and a few government officials. Although they did make sure that everyone was out of the building first."
Surrounding the pharmacy, nothing remains. Photo by Roseann Lake.
The pharmacy, the only building still standing. Photo by Roseann Lake.
A truck taking away doors for re-sale elsewhere. A man sleeps in the back of it. Photo by Roseann Lake.
Trucks taking away debris. Photo by Roseann Lake.
A particularly violent eviction
The video shows the eviction of a couple of "stubborn nails" who ended up having to be rescued from their demolished home by neighbours. The scene took place in Yangqing Town, north Beijing, on 13 April 2010. Video posted on China Hush.