Migrants to China's capital pushed around by the demolition gangs

Re-developments flatten whole districts as homeowners are constantly being forced to move on, but it means wealth for some.

A scene in the southern Beijing village of Boashan, which is being demolished.

Credit: Daniel Bardsley/The National

BEIJING // Wang Jingxue, a migrant worker who runs a furniture business, looks sadly at the lane in front of his store. This area of Baoshan village in the south of the Chinese capital is busy with a couple of cyclists, people stopping to chat, and middle-aged women shopping.

But the demolition man's wrecking ball will soon flatten what remains of Baoshan. Indeed when Mr Wang looks to his left, he sees broken walls and piles of bricks, all that remains of the neighbouring block. "My life is so insecure and displaced," said Mr Wang, 48, from Henan province, while extracting wire from an old piece of cable. "You move constantly. You live somewhere and the government demolishes it, then you move somewhere else and the government demolishes it. It makes you feel quite pathetic."

His wife Guwang Qing, 48, describes the impending demolition as "a bit unfair". The business the couple has built up since the start of the year recycling old furniture is "running quite well", but they will have to leave it behind and start again. And unlike many people displaced by demolitions, she and her husband are not likely to be compensated. "The government said they would give us no money," she said.

In China, demolition frequently takes place on a vast scale, flattening neighbourhoods, and is often driven by local authorities keen to profit by selling land for redevelopment. But not everyone is disappointed when their homes or workplaces are destroyed. Many homeowners who are registered as local residents, rather than being migrants, have been handsomely compensated. Andy Xie, the former chief Asia-Pacific economist for Morgan Stanley, said: "Low income families have become middle class because of the government gifts for resettlement.

"In Shanghai, I saw a family who had a ten square metre property and they asked for one million yuan [Dh542,294] and they got it," said Mr Xie during a talk in Beijing earlier this year. According to an official website for Beijing Economic-Technological Development Area, a manufacturing and technology district, a total of 18 villages in southern Beijing containing 12,000 people in total are being demolished to allow the development area to expand. Officials at a relocation headquarters set up to advise residents declined to comment when The National visited.

Fu Naihua, 30, who lives in Baoshan with her husband and daughter, and several members of her husband's family, hopes to benefit from the demolition. While admitting she will miss the family's single-storey courtyard house and may feel "imprisoned in a matchbox" after the family's likely relocation to a towerblock, she believes they could be in line for a 300,000 yuan payout. "The mood of the villagers is quite good as the government is going to pay them a large amount of money and give them a flat," she said.

"That's not to say there aren't people attached to the old way of life, but everybody is quite looking forward to the demolition." While some residents have been well compensated, Yip Ngai-ming, an associate professor at the City University of Hong Kong who specialises in housing policy, said there were "very big differences" between different parts of China in terms of how people were treated. People being forced out and not adequately compensated was he said a problem in the biggest cities a decade ago, but now concerns centre on "inland cities and second-tier cities". Issues over the ownership of land or property mean some people, including peasants on land historically owned collectively, were often not compensated.

"Those who do not get compensated will resist to the very last inch," he said. "The local governments have some stake - they're not neutral, they're inclined to use force on those who don't want to leave." In January, the legislative affairs office of the State Council, China's cabinet, published draft rules to ban violence or threats against residents resistant to being moved out, and to protect them from having power or water supplies cut off. However, forced relocations will still be allowed to prevent individuals harming what officials said were the interests of the majority.

There have been violent standoffs between developers and residents, and in April in Hebei province a woman was crushed to death by a truck when resisting being moved out. Linda Wong, a professor in the department of public and social administration in the City University of Hong Kong, said many remained "very concerned" the government was not protecting people from arbitrary relocation without adequate compensation. As land was becoming "very precious" for development, she said it would continue to be sold off by local authorities.

"It's likely there will be more and more land taken away from homeowners and maybe rural communities. The problem certainly will not go away," she said. And in Baoshan, despite the windfall some residents expect, others are unhappy. For the past six years, Chen Jiaming, 55, has ridden his bicycle through the village each day buying old furniture. "Us ordinary citizens, what can we do about it?" he said. "I've been coming here for quite a long time and I'm worried it might not be easy to get familiar with another neighbourhood." @Email:dbardsley@thenational.ae