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Beiwu follow-up 7: view of a villager

July 19, 2012

konjaku: this relates the viewpoint of a Beiwu villager. At the time of this article, the village has been demolished, construction has started on replacement housing.

The story of Beiwu villagers “sudden wealth”


Source: Phoenix net, Liaowang Dongfang weekly, reporter: Wang Kai

Beiwu village has already turned into a pile of rubble. A thin covering of snow on the ground made it seem all the more empty. All that was left was the temple and the opera house, which still had traces of being defaced during the cultural revolution. These were now designated historical relics of Haidian district.

Lured to the village ruins was a husband and wife from Anhui. They had decided not to return home for the New Year holiday, in order to pull from the rubble any whole bricks, which they would sell, one brick for .17 yuan. Every day they retrieved several hundred bricks, and made 20-40 yuan. In one month they could make one or two thousand yuan. They told this reporter, this was the most minuscule amount of profit that could be reaped from the demolition of Beiwu.

“When the village was dismantled, the villages all became millionaires, However, they still didn’t want the village demolished.” They laughed as they said this.

The Beiwu villagers are to receive replacement housing in Beiwu Jiayuan at a 1:1 ratio with the area of their former household compound. Besides this, they receive 3000 yuan in compensation for every square meter (of their former household area), and 200 yuan per square meter as a renovation subsidy. Overnight they acquired two or three residential units in the new development, as well as several hundred thousands, up to one million yuan in cash. It seems they are truly “wealthy overnight.”

“You call this ‘sudden wealth?’ You think I’m rich now? Even if I have no way to make a decent living the rest of my life?” Beiwu villager Zhang Beiqing (alias) said this in all seriousness. She had had a 240 square meter household with garden, which she very much regretted having to part with.

Beiwu village is actually in a beautiful area. It is a close neighbor to the Summer Palace, and to Kunming lake. You can see the pagoda on top of Yu Quan Hill from the village. Not far to the north is the newly developed Yuyuan Villas(Majestic Mansion), which retail at 220,000 yuan per square meter.

Zhang Beiqing was not willing to talk about the demolition. “What’s the point in talking about it, it’s already done and over with.” Her family was one of those that agreed to cooperate with the government fairly early, and her house was razed in 2009-06, soon after demolition started.

Two years ago she borrowed money to build a two story building in her compound with 20 rooms, which she rented to migrants, earning seven or eight thousand yuan a month. “If I could have had another year, I could have paid off my debt.” Her salary is only 1000 yuan a month, but with the rental income her family lived comfortably.  “Look at him,” she said to the reporter, pointing to a fellow worker. “On this cold day, he had to turn off his central heating.”

Two years ago, this 50 something man and his family moved to “better” replacement housing (after the demolition of their village, not Beiwu). At present his monthly salary is around 1000 yuan or more, it comes to something above 10,000 yuan a year. In his building the building maintenance fee and central heating bill amount to 4000 yuan a year.

“Previously our house and property nourished and supported us. Now it is we who must “nourish” our building with money, but since our income is low, how can we afford it?” Zhang Beiqing had done all the figures. They say we’ll get 20,000 yuan a square meter if we sell, but if we sell, where are we going to live?”

In Zhang Beiqing’s household there are five: the husband and wife, son and daughter-in-law, and the grandson, born recently. The son works in a Kentucky Fried Chicken store, his income is not large. In this move, Zhang Beiqing’s family received  three residential units (in Beiwu Jiayuan) and some 800,000 yuan in compensation money, for their 240 square meter compound. The residential units comprise two two-bedroom suites and one one-bedroom suite.

This arrangement would incite envy in most people. However,  Zhang Beiqing said she would prefer what she had before. She does not want her new “suite.” “With my low income, all the money will just be eaten away before not very long.”

800,000 yuan is by far the most money Zhang Beiqing has ever seen  in her life. But her fellow worker said he had received a large compensation payment too, and it had long ago been used up in everyday expenses.

The area where urban and rural join, is where the” Beijing floaters” live. [Beijing floaters: people who work in or around Beijing, but do not have Beijing household residency]. Rents are cheap, a few hundred yuan a month, something migrants can afford. This is why there were so many migrants renting in Beiwu, from village residents like Zhang Beiqing.

But now she is moving up to “better” housing. Of the family’s three residential units, the one bedroom unit will be the only one they will be able to rent out. “Suppose we try to get 1000 yuan a month for it, what migrant worker will be able to afford it?” She said even if they are able to rent it for about that amount, their overall rental income will still be far less.

For Zhang Beiqing, her homestead with garden was not only her residence, but a reliable source of capital. Now she is moving up to better housing. According to the government plan her quality of life will be enhanced. She will be freed from the messy environment, the overcrowding. The government hopes the land which Beiwu village used to occupy will now become something greater.

Zhang Beiqing does not feel this is a change for the better. Her family is temporarily living in Mentougou village paying 2400 a month for rent, from a moving allowance of 560 yuan per person. After that, there is 40 yuan left over.

As for the 800,000 yuan in compensation,  Zhang Beiqing used some of it to buy her son a car, a Beijing Xiandai ( made by the Beijing Hyundai corporation). “His work is far away. As long as we are able to do it, we want to make our son satisfied.” She figures they have 5 or 600,000 left.

Her fellow villagers also think, that they have gotten a lot of money but also increased expenses. In a few years the money will be gone, and they have no way now to invest it. “Should we buy a real estate property? Right now, prices are high, but what if they fall in the future, and we lose our investment?”

Zhang Beiqing did not anticipate that Beiwu would so quickly turn into a pile of rubble. At the end of 2006 the village underwent extensive renovations. The streets were repaved,   new sewage and running water pipes were installed. There were new streetlights, new public toilets, and new brick paving at the entrance. At present, at the village site,  the manhole covers have been pried off and taken away.

“Don’t just demolish the village, without letting us turn into urban residents,”  Zhang Beiqing said. Her permanent residence booklet says she is a “villager,” but the plot of land with homestead and garden which the “villager” has for personal use is something which has now disappeared.

villager 村民

Click on photos for original size

Beiwu village being demolished

Beiwu village demolished –from the air

Beiwu Jiayuan under construction

The three photos above are from Memory of China

Some photos of the Yuyuan Villas development:

Villa with Yu Quan Hill in the distance


konjaku: “Zhang Beiqing did not anticipate that Beiwu would so quickly turn into a pile of rubble. At the end of 2006 the village underwent extensive renovations.”

The background of this was treated in an earlier post: “In 2006, as the Olympics drew near, Beijing, in order to fulfill the promise it made to the international community to make it a “green Olympics,” having already allotted 100 million yuan, began a large scale project to renovate those villages within the city.

For instance, in 2006 Beijing invested 30 million yuan in a pilot project to renovate the environment in Beiwu. They widened the roads and hardened them. They put in streetlights to illuminate certain selected roads, added running water on these routes, and sewage pipes to carry off rainwater and soiled water, They built a hygiene service center and a police affairs service center, An important part of this was tearing down the non-conforming buildings.

Even so, it was just another round in the dispute. The government had merely treated the symptoms. As soon as the Olympics passed, the offending buildings went up again. The hardened roads, tap water and sewage, ameliorated conditions, were simply not enough to truly transform the “dirty, chaotic, inferior” appearance. The final outcome was that with the demolishing and relocating, the government escalated its management hold over the village.”

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