Desperate for justice, a 77-year old woman knelt naked in front of a Shanghai courthouse on August 18 to protest the demolition of her home. The scene was filmed and has since gone viral online.
As a result of massive urban renewal programmes, forced evictions are frequent in China. These have infuriated home owners, who are often given only a few days’ notice before being thrown out of their homes. The so-called compensation is also far below the market rate.
While stripping down in full daylight may seem like an extreme measure, other desperate homeowners have gone much further. One woman recently ended up disfigured after she set herself on fire. Last year, a man who set himself alight died from his burns. Others have even been killed while resisting eviction.
This was the second time Zhuang Jinghui, a former doctor, stripped naked outside her district courthouse – but it was the first time her protest was caught on camera. Jinghui spoke to the Observers to explain why she took such a drastic measure.
“They said I was mad, threatened to send me to an asylum. I’m not mad, I’m desperate”
I inherited my house. I opened a clinic there when I retired in 1992; my son ran a shop in the house, as well. In 2002, the government decided to redevelop the area. I hesitated for a long time, and finally signed a contract. I was tricked, however. I didn’t get the compensation the officials had promised me. I sued, and lost. I decided to keep fighting.
Then, in 2004, they sent people to seize my house. I wasn’t home; my sister, however, was. Two hours later, I got a phone call. My sister was dead. I was in shock. I checked the hospital’s records; they stated that my sister had been brought in after she fainted, but had died before she could be treated. Though my sister was in perfectly good health, they later claimed she died of a disease.
In 2008, despite all my petitions to the court, they finally demolished by home. I was confined to a hotel for three days while they destroyed it. I was under surveillance at all times, even in the bathroom. When they let me out, they gave me 200 yuan [22 euros].
“The police follow me everywhere I go now. I’m a little afraid.”
The courts forced me to reconcile with Pudong’s Centre for Land Reserve [which demolished my house]. I am very angry about this reconciliation. The land reserve promised to give me 5,000 yuan a month until I could move into a new house. If they didn’t keep that promise, they were supposed to pay a penalty. Since I had no money left, I had to sign. They gave me the money at first, reluctantly, but after a few months they stopped paying. The courts have been apathetic. They keep telling me they doing research, that I must wait, but nothing ever happens.
WARNING: This video contains nudity and may shock viewers
Three weeks ago, I stripped naked and knelt down outside the courthouse for almost half an hour. They said I was mad, and threatened to send me to an asylum. I am not mad. I am desperate, and obtaining justice is the only way I will be able to subsist. All these years fighting the courts, I have often only eaten biscuits for meals.
Officials came to my house last week. They told me I was famous on the Web. I told them I didn’t know who took this video. They told me not to go outside, that the court was now considering my case. I was asked to go to court later this week. They have police following me everywhere I go now. I am a little afraid. But I am also angry. My sister lost her life, my house was confiscated, and now I am old. I have read many books about law during these past years, and I will keep defending my rights.”
This post was written with FRANCE 24 journalist Gaelle Faure.