By David Ferguson, China.org.cn
1. The creation of a Media Myth
Starting in June 2007, the Western media were suddenly plastered with a big new Chinese Olympics story. The headlines told a simple and dramatic tale "China to kick out 1.5 million before Olympics" trumpeted the ABC News Google header. "Olympics driving mass evictions" said Business Week, which described how "China is kicking 13,000 people out of their homes every month to clear land for Olympics venues..."
The gist of this shocking story was that 1.5 million people were being forcibly evicted from their homes in Beijing to make way for the 2008 Olympics. The original source of the stories was a report - "Fair Play for Housing Rights: Mega-Events, Olympic Games and Housing Rights" - issued by a Geneva-based group called COHRE (Centre of Housing Rights and Evictions) which describes itself as "the leading international human rights organisation campaigning for the protection of housing rights and the prevention of forced evictions". i
The COHRE report covered the previous five Olympics, and the forthcoming ones in Beijing and London. In the first paragraph on the Beijing section, it spoke of "1.5 million displacements" and "large-scale forced evictions". The Western media largely ignored the rest of the report, focusing exclusively on the Beijing Section, and the headline writers in particular went to town. The story became one of how "1.5 million people" were being "kicked out of their homes" in a series of "mass evictions".
The '1.5 million forced evictions' claim has now made its way into the realm of 'established facts' about China - google "China Olympic 1.5 million evictions" and you will get something in the order of 50,000 hits. In a blog on the subject of "Olympic Evictions" published on 19th July 2008, just before the start of The Olympics, BBC Reporter James Reynolds stated:
"The Centre (COHRE) charges that 1.5 million people in this city have been evicted from their homes since 2000 in the effort to modernise China's capital…"
The figures from the COHRE report are certainly startling – all the more so when you realize that 1.5 million amounts to something around 10 percent of the total population of Beijing. But they start to smell a little when you dig down into the report and realize that in order to reach their figure of 1.5 million, COHRE counted every single person in Beijing who has been rehoused since the year 2000.
That's right. But just in case it didn't get through to you first time round, let me repeat it: The story that 10 percent of the population of Beijing was being forcibly evicted in order to make way for the Olympics is based on counting every single person who has been rehoused in the city since the year 2000.
I do not imagine for one instant that COHRE actually believe this claim. So why did they encourage it to be disseminated to a worldwide audience?