Oct 12, 2010 08:17 PM

A Local Official Argues for Forced Demolition

Housing demolitions in China have been a growing source of tension during China's rapid urbanization. Local governments across the country have become the center of public scrutiny for abuse of law enforcement measures and one local government official has written a letter to Caixin, arguing in favor of forced demolitions for the continuation of urbanization in China.

In September this year, the highly-publicized tragedy in Yihuang County, Jiangxi Province pushed the issue to the height of the public agenda. A demolition standoff outside the Zhong family's home pitted nearly 200 local government workers against the Zhong family, and resulted in the death of one family member and two others severely injured. The bodily harm was not caused by demolition workers, but instead, they had set themselves on fire in attempted suicides.

A Yihuang County official by the name of Hui Chang wrote a letter to Caixin in response to the public outcry over the events in Yihuang.

The following are translated excerpts from the letter:

Exaggerated Moral Victories

"If we view the dismissed officials as a success or victory of grassroots forces to protect their legal rights, I think it's a victory for journalists and Internet democracy, rather than a victory for the Zhong family."

Cost of Urbanization

"Yihuang County has seen rapid development in recent years. According to official statistics, the total GDP of Yihuang County in 2009 reached 2.15 billion yuan, twice the GDP in 2005. Fiscal income reached 253 million yuan in 2009, four times the figure in 2005…The development in Yihuang County reflects the changes in Jiangxi Province and, of the whole country."

"In truth, it is not the government's aim to force a demolition. The cost of development must be considered…Urban development requires vast amounts of demolition. If the government pampers individual homeowners, and increases compensation standards accordingly, then the government cannot afford development. Meanwhile, farmers who are lured by surging land prices want to become rich overnight on government funds. Thus it becomes so difficult for the government and homeowners to reach a settlement on compensation. Petitioning to bypass the local leadership becomes common. But forced demolitions are inevitable because it is still necessary for the local government to implement their development strategies. Otherwise, just forget all kinds of development."

"It's easy to make trouble during a forced demolition, but the government cannot relent. Thus, the only issue is whether these troubles are minor or not, and whether they could be controlled or not. Whether the trouble is really serious and if there are means to control it often depends on luck. In Yihuang County, forced demolition used be carried out smoothly. We were too optimistic about the demolition of this specific household. And there were problems with how the issue was handled on site. In addition to this, the local government failed to pay enough attention to the accumulation of sentiment – with the involvement of journalists – on the negative side." 

"Despite this event in Yihuang, forced demolitions are common all around China. To some degree, we could say the Yihuang event is a scapegoat for China's urbanization. Of course, I am not saying the dismissal of government officials is wrong. Facing the violent storm of forced demolitions in China and massive social unrest incurred by peasants pursuing their legal rights, it might be necessary for the higher-ups to penalize someone as a warning to others."

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