Forced demolition an inevitable pain in China's urbanization

By Hui Chang
0 CommentsPrint E-mail Global Times, October 18, 2010
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On September 10, while the government of Yihuang county, Jiangxi Province was routinely mobilizing forced demolition teams to make space for a new bus station, three people set themselves on fire, due to local officials' careless handling of the mobilization.

Photos of the tragedy soon appeared online and the incident became a public event, drawing national attention within a couple of days.

On September 16, local officials visited family members of the victims and tried to persuade them not to bypass the immediate leadership and appeal directly to higher authorities.

The next day, one of the victims died, which triggered an earthquake in local politics. Eight local officials were placed under investigation, and the county's chief and Party secretary were removed from their posts.

Such severe punishment is rarely seen in similar cases across China.

The media played an important role in this incident. Some journalists appealed to their rich imagination and superb writing skills to catch people's eyes.

In this transforming period characterized by income gaps and conflicts of interest, many people have complaints against the society and the government. Such negative news can easily stir their emotions.

Yihuang's development is evident in recent years. The changes in the past five years surpassed that over the past decade. Statistics show that the county's GDP in 2009 was 2.15 billion yuan ($322.72 million), more than twice that of 2005.

The county is a microcosm of China's rapid industrialization and urbanization, and a successful example of underdeveloped regions in central and western China catching up and surpassing coastal areas.

Government performance is not perfect here. There are complaints about some officials' dining and wining at public expenditures, taking bribes, and so on.

Urban construction calls for lots of demolition, and local governments cannot afford to meet soaring compensation standards. Meanwhile, many farmers, stimulated by soaring land and house prices, dream of becoming millionaires overnight through land acquisition.

In such circumstance, it's extremely hard for the government and relocation households to agree on compensation standards. Relocated household bypass the immediate leadership and appeal to higher authorities. In order to implement local development strategies, local governments find forced demolition the only choice.

Surely this will cause problems. But the government cannot give it up just because of the potential problems. While rebuking policies of forced demolition, people seem to ignore the basic fact that everyone is actually a beneficiary of such policies.

Without forced demolition, there is no urbanization in China; and without urbanization, there is no brand-new Chinese society. As a result, we can say that without demolition, there would be no new China.

If China's local governments can just play the role of night watchman within a mature market economy, as a Western government usually does, it wouldn't need to carry out forced demolition.

However, this is arguably impossible in China.

China is a new traveler on the road to modernization. In order to rejuvenate the nation and catch up with developed countries, the government has to intervene in the economy and economic life.

Meanwhile, if overplayed, it can undermine the function of the market, squeeze social space and become feeble in protecting individual rights. We should perform official duties according to law. However, we cannot fall into doctrinar-ism.

There are many problems in China's laws. Under the model of elites ruling the country, legislators do not know enough about practical issues.

We should also govern ethically, but traditional values, including officials' ethics, have been lost for decades. The mutual mistrust between officials and ordinary people actually invalidates many laws and policies.

Yihuang's incident will become part of the past in time. As long as local areas need development, forced demolition should be promoted.

Local governments should learn Yihuang's lesson, and prevent similar cases from happening again by standardizing methods and caring more about the rights of those relocated.

The author is an official from Yihuang county, Jiangxi Province. Hui Chang is a pseudonym. The article is an excerpt from his open letter to the media. forum@


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