Among the most socially devastating consequences of the large-scale urban renewal programmes in China are the mass evictions taking place in blue collar neighbourhoods. The following video shows a desperate tenant setting fire to himself in protest at the evacuation of his building.
The scene takes place at the end of October in the city of Mishan, in the north-eastern province of Heilongjiang. The man who climbs on a rooftop and sets fire to himself is called Cui Dexi. He is protesting against a demolition project in his neighbourhood, Ping An Jia, that would affect 45 homes, including his own. The day Cui Dexi set himself alight real estate developers had come to the planned construction site with a full police escort to negotiate a compensation deal with evicted residents. He survived, but suffered serious burns on his face and hands.
WARNING: These images may be considered disturbing.
Footage originally posted on sina.com.
"All that’s left for us to do is accept what they give us and leave"
Li Xun, 32, is a wine salesman in Beijing. His family were evicted from their home.
My parents owned an apartment in Beijing, in the neighbourhood of Beishatan, not far from the Olympic Green. We had lived there for over 16 years when suddenly one morning a government employee knocked on our door and told us the neighbourhood would be destroyed to “prepare for the Olympics”. They wanted to build shiny new buildings.
No one asked us if we agreed, or indeed our opinion on anything. The employee just wanted to know what the surface of our apartment was. We understood why later when we discovered a sign in the entrance of our building saying residents would be paid 10,000 yuan (1,000 euros) per square meter if they moved out within two weeks. They put the sign up in the middle of the night to avoid having to face angry residents. My parents tried to negotiate with city officials for more, but it was no use.
"Middle-class familes can no longer live in our old neighborhood"
Our apartment was only 70m2, so the compensation money we received was not nearly enough to buy a new home in the same neighbourhood, let alone the city centre. Real estate prices have shot up in recent years. We finally found a place in Huilongguan, the northernmost tip of the city.
I visited our old neighbourhood not long ago: it’s full of tall, modern office buildings and luxury condominiums. Middle-class people can never afford to live in this area. All that’s left for us to do is accept what they give us and leave."
"Government authorities approve these methods"
“Xigua” is a student in Nanchang, in the province of Jinagxi.
I took part in anti-eviction protests in May. University officials wanted to get rid of the restaurants and shops around the campus, which were on land that belonged to the university. Locals tried to protest, but they weren’t even allowed to meet with officials and they were forced to leave.
This type of incident happens regularly all over the country, even in small cities. I remember one case in which a man took on bulldozers who had come to flatten his home, shooting fireworks at them.
Because this is a very sensitive issue, national media hardly ever cover it [however some independent Chinese publications, notably the Nanfang Daily, have published articles that are very critical of mass evictions]. In general, official media say that only real estate developers are responsible for these mass evictions, and that the government in Beijing opposes them. But everyone knows that in fact government authorities in Beijing approve these methods. This is made clear by the fact that every time evicted people have tried to go to Beijing to seek justice they were sent home."