A survey of Chinese news and Internet bulletin boards strongly suggests that protests over demolition and eviction practices have escalated in intensity and number in the past year. Chinese authorities are willing to tolerate dissent by anonymous writers on the Internet, and some open criticism by editorial writers and journalists. But the authorities suppress protests by evicted residents, and have jailed two of the country’s most prominent tenants’ rights advocates. Some protests have included residents who were evicted to make way for construction for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
When unhappy with the decisions of local authorities, many Chinese residents opt to shangfang (上访) or petition the provincial or national government bureaus that oversee them, by traveling to the government office and handing in open letters that request an investigation. According to the national Ministry of Construction, of 1,730 petitions filed from January to August 2003, about 70 percent were about problems with forced evictions.67 According to official statistics, there were 50 percent more petitions about forced eviction complaints in August 2003 than in August 2002.68 In some cases, tenants’ rights advocates organized petitions signed by large numbers of people. In the first such case in 2000, over 10,000 petitioners filed a civil suit against demolition and eviction at the Intermediate People’s Court in Beijing.69 On February 26, 2003, nearly 22,000 Beijing residents signed an open letter to President Hu Jintao and senior government officials.70
Thousands of people have taken their protests to the Internet, posting anonymous letters and complaints on electronic mail and bulletin boards, and circulating gruesome reports of violent evictions. In contrast to China’s strict control of dissent on other issues, many of these tenants’ protests were uncensored, and the criticism quickly built up steam. One typical writer said:
Others posted public protest letters about specific incidents.72 In November, over 1,200 Beijing residents signed a petition on the Internet in support of farmer-protester Ye Guoqiang, who had jumped from a Beijing bridge to protest his eviction for construction related to the 2008 Olympics.73
In September, the New China News Agency invited a public debate, asking “Between city construction and evictees, whose rights are more important? Should we change our thinking?” Most responses tended to favor the rights of evictees:
Some of China’s more independent media have raised the problem as well. In a widely cited article in Southern Weekend, “The decade-long drama of demolition and eviction,” author Zhao Ling listed four key problems: lack of rights for evictees, lack of any organized system for resettlement, generally low compensation, and difficulties in obtaining legal redress.76 The Beijing Entertainment News cited as problems the use of force to evict residents, low rates of compensation, frequent reversals and changes in government construction plans, and loss of livelihood for many who run small enterprises out of their homes.77
Even the state-controlled People’s Daily weighed in with an editorial analyzing conflict between the demolition regulations and national laws that prohibit the reallocation of property, and between the regulations and the constitution, which protects property rights. The People’s Daily criticized the administration of justice, quoting a legal scholar on the importance of judicial reform, and commenting:
In other cases, major media outlets like the China Economic Times suffered from censorship by local authorities. The China Economic Times reported that Shanghai authorities had blocked China Economic Times reports about forced evictions in the city, citing the national state secrets law. While acknowledging the sensitivity of the problem, the China Economic Times quoted from article two of China’s State Secrets Law to observe that the law applies to “[s]ecret matters in national construction and military force.” “One can say,” the Times continued,
However, while critical essays and anonymous protests on Internet bulletin boards were often tolerated, protests on the streets were ruthlessly suppressed. According to official statistics (which in similar instances often underreport the incidents), there were 1,500 violent incidents, suicide protests, and demonstrations related to demolition in 2003 as of November. From September to December 2003, Beijing saw almost daily protests in Tiananmen Square and in front of the Zhongnanhai compound against demolition and eviction.80 Authorities jailed many protesters and attempted to block and prevent protests by closing off streets.
The following is a chronological summary of crackdowns on protests relating to demolition and eviction in 2003. While these reports come from generally reliable news sources, Human Rights Watch could not confirm these incidents due to Chinese government restrictions on monitoring of human rights abuses.
There were sporadic reports of tenants’ rights protests and conflicts in the first half of 2003. In May, a woman of sixty-plus climbed on top of a bus and stripped naked to protest her forced eviction in Shenyang, Liaoning. The woman was carried away by police.81
In July, Beijing police blocked off streets around Zhongnanhai, the central government compound, to prevent a demonstration by evictees over low compensation. They also questioned Guan Zengli, a housing rights organizer, who had earlier organized a protest of about fifty people in front of the Ministry of Land and Resources.82 In August, a group of roughly 300 rural people went to Xi’an in Shaanxi to protest at provincial government offices, claiming the project for which they were being evicted lacked government approval and that project officials were giving inadequate compensation.83
On October 1, National Day, as already noted above, Ye Guoqiang jumped from Beijing’s Jinshui Bridge in a suicide attempt to protest his forced eviction and the related beating of his father. Ye survived the attempt and was jailed for illegally demonstrating. Over 1000 people signed a petition calling for his release. In Beijing, seven protesters were charged with causing social unrest in late October 2003, and three others were detained, including Ye Guoqiang’s elder brother and nephew. 84 Liu Anjun was detained in late October for causing social unrest when he marched in Tiananmen Square, alleging that his beating by a demolition company caused a heart attack.85
Also in October, rural Guangdong protester Sun Zhicai died during an anti-demolition protest in which five others were arrested. According to reports, Sun was one of a group of farmers who tried to block bulldozers, and was pushed into a pond by police. He died of a heart attack several hours later.86 Police charged Lau Shucan, Su Zhiquan, and Gu Jinai with inciting local people to stop government work. At their trial on December 17, Lau Shucan charged that he had been abused by police and forced to sign a false confession. Family members said that their lawyer was prevented from cross-examining witnesses in the trial.87
More protests were reported in November. There were several reports of a protest by twenty to thirty residents at a forced eviction site in Shenyang, with allegations that persons carrying out the forced evictions beat protesters and used a bulldozer to demolish their homes; some participants in a protest of over a hundred on November 11 were reportedly beaten by police.88 On November 20, a group of about forty protesters from Qingdao city in Shandong organized a peaceful sit-in in front of Zhongnanhai, the central government compound. The protesters aimed to draw attention to the demolition of their homes without advance notice or compensation contracts, but were all taken away by police.89 There were reports that same month that thirteen farmers in Shandong province had received sentences of up to four years for protesting government land seizures and the demolishing of their homes. According to police, the protesters were arrested because they used tractors to block the gates of the government compounds and fought the police.90
In early December, tenants’ rights activist Xu Yonghai was detained in Xiaoshan, Zhejiang province. Xu, a forty-two-year-old Protestant doctor and longtime leader of China’s underground house church movement, had been advocating on behalf of jailed Christian leader Liu Fengguang. Liu was arrested in October in Hangzhou, where he reportedly went to investigate the demolition of an underground house church. He was charged with circulating state secrets.91
Xu was at the forefront of Beijing’s tenants’ rights movement, participating in demonstrations and giving interviews to the media.92 The advocate also circulated open letters to the government calling for reform of demolition regulations. In an interview with Australian Broadcasting Corporation, he described the demolition of his home:
On October 1, 2003, Xu and Hua Huiqi were put under house arrest as part of a broader crackdown on dissidents on National Day.94 Xu was released from house arrest, only to be arrested again a few weeks later.95 In February 2004, he was formally charged with revealing state secrets.96 His wife, Li Shanna, was put under police surveillance as part of a broader crackdown in the weeks leading up to the National Party Congress in March 2004.97
Reports of violence at protests continued in December. A train killed four protesters in Henan province who blocked the train tracks protesting the demolition of their homes. According to media reports, police were attempting to move about 1,000 demonstrators when they were hit by the train.98 Another report in December said that a Nanjing man was crushed to death by a bulldozer while he protested at his home.99
Throughout 2003, Shanghai residents engaged in a protracted dispute with developers and officials over forced eviction. In March, police detained a group of forty-five protesters who traveled to Beijing to petition authorities, and sent them back to Shanghai.100 Three protesters who attempted to travel to Beijing for the same purpose in April were detained at the train station and released later that day.101 Police reportedly detained 132 protesters at a demonstration in early May 2003.102 Later that month, over 150 protesters attempted to board a train to Beijing to present a petition to central authorities, and eighty were detained.103 In early June, more than one hundred protesters were prevented from boarding a train with the goal of petitioning Beijing officials.104 In September, a group of eighty-five petitioners succeeded in getting to Beijing, but were seized there by police from Shanghai, who returned them to Shanghai.105 Some of those detained went on hunger strike in protest. Seven or eight were released in October.106
Police targeted two outspoken advocates for the Shanghai protesters: Shen Ting, a Hong Kong woman whose parents had been evicted in Shanghai; and Zheng Enchong, a lawyer who advocated for the rights of evicted tenants and who assisted a group of these in filing suit against Shanghai officials for corruption. Police arrested Zheng in June and charged him with “circulating state secrets.” As noted above, Zheng had faxed Chinese news reports about the cases and local labor protests to New York-based Human Rights in China. On October 28, Zheng received a three-year prison sentence.107 On December 18, a Shanghai appeals court upheld the sentence.
In March 2004, Jiang Meili, Zheng’s wife, reported that she was bound, gagged, and abducted by police when she travelled to Beijing to present a petition on behalf of her husband to the National People’s Congress—the body charged with amending and supervising implementation of China’s constitution.108
67 Zhao Ling, “Bude bu zhongshide wenti [A problem that merits serious attention],” Nanfang Zhoumo,September 4, 2003.
68 “New China Attention Point,” New China News Agency, posted on www.boxun.com November 12, 2003.
69 Zhao Ling, “A problem that merits serious attention.”
70 Xiao Chuan, “Zhengfu zongrong zhi chaiqian maodun jihua: Minen yi jiduan fangshi xuanxie [Government conniving leads to escalating demolition and eviction conflicts: Popular resentment uses extreme measures to spread the word],” Dajiyuan [Epoch Times], posted on www.boxun.com, November 26, 2003.
71 Anonymous, “The demolition of paths and roads will lead farmers to a dead end where they must fight on all fronts,” October 17, 2003, posted on comment.sina.com.cn; no longer accessible as of February 4, 2004.
72 “Sichuan Dazhou Tongchuanchu fangzhi chaiqian qi fengbo [Demolition and eviction causes disturbance in Tongchuan district, Dazhou, Sichuan],” www.peacehall.com/news/gb/yuanqing/2003/09/200309160611.shtml, September 15, 2003.
73 “Beijing 1204 ren qianming shengming Zhongguo zhengfu zai Ye Guoqiang zisha yi an niezao yaoyan [1204 Beijing people sign statement on fabrication of rumors by Chinese government in Ye Guoqiang case],” posted on www.boxun.com, November 29, 2003.
74“Qiangxing chaiqian, ni zai yu shei zhengli [Forced demolition and eviction, who are you struggling to benefit]?” New China News Agency, September 16, 2003.
75 “Forced demolition and eviction…,” New China News Agency.
76 Zhao Ling, “Chaiqian shi nian beixiju [The decade-long drama of demolition and eviction],” Southern Weekend, September 4, 2003.
77 Su Guanming, “Yin chai zhi pin wenti rijian tuchu: chaiqian chongtu chengwei xinfang jidian [Problem of demolition leading to poverty gradually emerges: demolition and eviction conflicts become focus of petitions],” Beijing Entertainment News, November 13, 2003.
78 Wang Hongru, “Chaiqian mianzi falu kunhuo [Demolition and eviction faces legal conundrum],” Renmin ribao, October 21, 2003.
79 “Meiti puguang Shanghai chaiqian bei fengsha, you ren chen baodao chaiqian ju xiemi [Media’s exposure of Shanghai demolition and eviction censored, some name the reporting of eviction and eviction ‘divulging secrets’],” China Economic Times, November 26, 2003.
80 Michael Jen-siu, “Activist’s untiring search for justice,” South China Morning Post, July 8, 2003; Radio Free Asia, “Shangfang wuxiao: Qingdao chaiqianhu Zhongnanhai jingzuo hangyi [No results from petitioning: Qingdao evictees protest with a peaceful sit-in at Zhongnanhai],” November 21, 2003.
81 An Zhiyong, “Embarassed elderly woman strips naked to confront law enforcement at demolition and eviction site,” Guangzhou ribao [Guangzhou Daily], May 27, 2003.
82 Michael Jen-siu, “Police foil protest at leaders’ compound,” South China Morning Post, July 2, 2003.
83 “Xi’an yue 300 ming nongmin bu man chaiqian, shengwei shiwei hangyi [About 300 Xi’an residents dissatisfied with chaiqian march and protest at provincial offices],” Radio Free Asia, August 21, 2003.
84 Wang Manna, “Sanming Beijing chaiqianhu ye bei xingshi juliu mianze qisu” [Three Beijing evictees also in criminal detention, facing indictment],” Central News Agency, October 30, 2003.
85 Wang Manna, “Three Beijing evictees…”
86 “Chinese protester dies over land dispute,” Radio Free Asia, October 29, 2003.
87 “Farmer says Guangdong authorities forced him to confess in land trial,” Radio Free Asia, December 24, 2003.
88 “Shenyang yeman chaiqian: Jumin zao paoda jiachan beili zai feixu [Savage demolition and eviction in Shenyang: Residents encounter beatings, property left in ruins],” www.sina.com, November 12, 2003; Boxun, “Shenyangshi zaici fasheng yeman chaiqian xingwei [More savage demolition and eviction behavior takes place in Shenyang city,” www.boxun.com, November 14, 2003.
89 “Shangfang wuxiao: Qingdao chaiqianhu Zhongnanhai jingzuo hangyi [No results from petitioning: Qingdao evictees protest with a peaceful sit-in at Zhongnanhai],” Radio Free Asia Chinese service, November 21, 2003; Boxun, “Hangyi chaiqian shiweizhe zai Zhongnanhaiwai zao jubu [Demonstrators protesting demolishing and eviction encounter arrest outside Zhongnanhai],” www.boxun.com, November 21, 2003.
90 “Chinese villagers sentenced for rioting over government land grab,” AFP, November 7, 2003.
91 “Activist Liu Fengguang detained,” Human Rights in China, October 17, 2003.
92 Human Rights Watch interview with Bob Fu, China Aid Association, December 10, 2003.
93 John Taylor, “China real estate boom: People forced to leave their homes,” ABC Online, www.abc.net.au/correspondents/content/2003/x989831.htm, November 16, 2003. The arrest was not a first for Xu. In January 2000, police detained Xu for several days with Liu Fengguang, He Depu and two others after a religious meeting to celebrate the New Year. Associated Press, “China rounds up dissidents,” January 1, 2000.Subsequently Xu said that he was abused by police. CNN, “China blasts U.S. plan for human rights censure,” January 12, 2000.
94 “Crackdown on dissidents for National Day,” Human Rights in China, October 2, 2003.
95 Human Rights Watch interview with Bob Fu, China Aid Association, December 10, 2003.
96 “House Church Leaders Charged,” Human Rights in China, February 24, 2004.
97 “Crackdown on Activists Prior to NPC Meeting,” Human Rights in China, February 26, 2004.
98 “Train kills Chinese protesters,” BBC, December 12, 2003.
99“Bei yanmi fengsuo de xiaoxi: Nanjing dengfuxiang chaiqianhu Weng Biao zifen zhihou, you you liangren cansi zai chaiqian er zi zhixia [Highly classified news: Two more people die in tragic demolition and eviction after Nanjing evictee Weng Biao's self-immolation],” www.boxun.com.
100 “Eviction petitioners rebuffed,” Human Rights in China, March 13, 2003.
101 “Shanghai clearance petitioners thwarted again,” Human Rights in China, April 17, 2003.
102 “Shanghai Clearance Protesters Arrested Under SARS Precautions,” Human Rights in China, May 1, 2003.
103 “Shanghai Clearance Protesters Prevented from Traveling to Beijing,” Human Rights in China, May 20, 2003.
104 “Shanghai Petitioners in June 4 Crackdown,” Human Rights in China, June 4, 2003.
105 “Detained Shanghai Petitioners in Hunger Strike,” Human Rights in China, October 1, 2003.
106 “Police release Shanghai property protestors,” AFP, October 6, 2003.
107 “HRIC's Statement on the Conviction of Zheng Enchong,” Human Rights in China, November 5, 2003.
108 “Police accused of abducting leading Shanghai lawyer’s wife,” South China Morning Post, March 2, 2004.