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Xiaohongmen: the wind blows, but the leaves do not move

November 6, 2012

konjaku: now we turn, somewhat at random, to the village of Guojia in Xiaohongmen. It provides a useful comparison to Beiwu and Dawangjing, because, unlike those two, this village does not play a key part in the large scale urban renewal plan. Perhaps it could have been left alone, but, as photos show, it was gradually being hemmed in by larger development projects. With land values in the area rising, it appears the township government sought to make profits by selling off the village land, which meant they had to forcibly evict the villagers and demolish their homes. The villagers were well aware of the rights and protections afforded them by the central government. The Xiaohongmen township local government, on its part, is increasingly dependent on land sales to generate funds (including, no doubt,  the money for salaries of its cadres, police, and other officials), since the national government has eliminated the fees and taxes it used to rely on. In the account that follows, written from the villagers point of view, we see a village activist, Wu Lihong, attempting to plead the village case to some authority in the central government, while the township government officials block her from leaving her home. The situation is nicely summarized: “ When a wind from the CP Central Committee  blows over the territory under jurisdiction of the township, the leaves on the trees do not move at all!”

The case of Guojia also represents the unintended consequences of urban renewal. The large-scale attempt to “fix” certain designated villages, the listed up villages, spills over to other areas in unforeseen ways that don’t fit the ideals of the plan. One can make an argument that the Beiwu and Dawangjing villagers were well compensated, enough to help them become full-fledged urban residents. But since the Xiaohongmen township government lacked the generosity and, more particularly, the deep pockets of Beijing city, the deal it offered Guojia villagers was much less sufficient. The villagers had no reason to acquiesce quietly, feeling caught in a downward spiral. Those whose job it was to make them leave felt that their own livelihoods were at stake. Both sides felt oppressed by pressures over which they had no control.

As commentators have pointed out, while Dawangjing is meant to be an example to be followed in the future, not only in Beijing but all over the country, it is probably impossible to carry out. Localities lack the financial resources to attempt to guarantee a secure future to every village resident whose homestead they demolish.


Beijing city Chaoyang district Xiaohongmen township Longzhaoshu village is one of the 50 listed up villages [targeted for urban renewal]. There are five natural villages in the township. Besides Longzhaoshu, there are Nanshuangqigan, Shaojiao, Songjialou,  and Guojia villages, with a population of some 4000 people, an area of 3600 hectares. In 2011 Guojia villagers were very much afraid that the land which was their livelihood was being sold off, stolen from them, and forcibly occupied by others. Already 500 hectares was taken by a block of hardware and building materials stores [200 stores in all],  400 hectares by a home furnishings mall,  600 hectares by an Automobile Parts City.[these are street blocks or squares, with lines of stores on both sides] The Beijing Jiayide real estate company illegally developed 800 hectares of village land[probably a luxury housing complex].The Beijing Number 2 Intermediate People’s Court forcibly occupied 50 hectares for its court building.

The income from turning over these plots of collective village land went directly into the township and village administrations, which are both corrupt, leaving the villagers without even the most rudimentary protections to maintain their livelihood. As commodity prices continue to spike upwards, the villagers are bit by bit heading into a difficult situation. (Human Rights in China website. They have an English page at

2011-01-18, the 15th day of the 12th lunar month, the end of the year, although the Xiaohongmen villagers were in a state of nervous apprehension, guarding their homes from sudden demolition, still, as in any year, they were busy with their New Years purchases. On this day, the weather was quite frigid. Villager Li Baohua was on guard. His wife went out to do her New Years shopping, leaving him along in the house (no family dared to go out all together and lock the gate). Suddenly he heard a knock, and a voice at the gate. Three policemen from the Xiaohongmen sub-station stood outside. In a loud voice they said, You must go with us to the station.

Li Baohua was frightened, his heart skipped a beat. From the other side of the gate he asked, What’s the matter?  The policeman said, Just come. At the station you’ll find out.

Li Baohua was taken to the station, and shut up in an interrogation room, no one told him why. After a long time, the door opened, and a policeman came in with a person involved with the demolition. The policeman said to Li Baohua, Please come here and sign the demolition agreement. If you don’t sign, we will detain you here, and demolish your house anyway. When you get out, you’ll have nothing.

Li Baohua was determined not to sign. He said, I haven’t broken any law,  for what reason do you detain me? The policeman answered, Whether you violated the law or not is not for you to say. We are the enforcers of the law. We say you broke the law, that is the reason you are here.  The person carrying out the demolition said, If you don’t sign you will stay here, and your whole family will worry about you. So sign right away and go home right away.  In no time at all you will move to a new home and celebrate the New Year there.

Shut up in the station day and  night, Li Baohua’s resolve gradually weakened.  He had to sit in the room all night, his eyes fixed on the wall. On the morning of the 19th , under the eye of the police supervisor, he affixed his name to the document. The police and the demolition person sent him home under an escort. The truck that would move his family to their new home was already parked in front of his gate.

The process of “helping” him move was like watching defenselessly as his belongings are plundered. Li Baohua fell limply to the ground and began to cry. Whoever moves from their residence, wants a number of days to get ready, wants to receive best wishes from others regarding their new life. Who could imagine a move like this? The police and the demolition workers “helped” to the end. and only when they had taken Li Baohua to his new residence in a multi-story building on the edge of the 5th ring, did he regain his freedom.

In the northern part of China, the 23rd of the 12th lunar month is the “little year”, every house is decorated with lanterns and colored streamers. This day is considered the beginning of New Years celebrations. 2011-01-29 was the 26th of the lunar month, however on this day Xiaohongmen met with a surprise attack. Three  houses in Guojia village were destroyed.

Among there were the house of Han Bingkui. He was alone inside in the house at the time. Four large men forced their way inside, and pulled him outside his gate. Then the other “movers” rushed inside, and in the blink of an eye the refrigerator,  color t.v., cabinets,  bed, and kitchen implements, were piled in a truck. Han Bingkui was kidnapped and detained in a room by the demolition people, and not allowed to go outside. In two other houses there was no one at home, so the demolition workers avoided the effort of packing the people’s belongings in a truck, and just threw them on the ground. Right away they were all sold as scrap to junk dealers.

These photos record the “helpers” at the demolition. At the scene, those wearing camouflage clothing, firemen’s uniforms, soldiers uniforms, those several tens of people, they have steel helmets on their heads, in their hands they hold clubs. Full of energy, they stride forward with big steps. There are others wearing the green overcoats of the military, standing by the houses. Several police cars are also parked there.

In previous times, [during the War of Resistance against Japan, 1937-45]when this was something the Japanese foreign devils did, we called it an invasion, for them to be driven from China. When this was something bandits did, we called it plundering, to rid ourselves of them. Now, today, this is something the CP committee, the government leaders,  Public Security, the city management is doing, what do we call it?

Han Binglian’s wife said, No one was at our house, the gate was locked. I had gone back to Hebei to take care of my ailing mother who was in the hospital. We hadn’t signed an agreement, they just demolished our house. I didn’t know about it until a villager phoned me. We were robbed of all our things, they were all taken away, I don’t know where.

Another villager, Wei Changfu said, When our house was forcibly demolished,  people say they saw them sell all of our belongings as scrap. Our house had an area of 196 square meters. It was old, it had been passed down for generations in our family. Most of the villagers have been threatened by the gangs and forced to sign. If one house is forcibly demolished, it scares the next ten houses. In this way they try and scare everyone.

There is a photo of Han Binglian and his wife standing in front of the ruins of their house. In the background there is a high quality residential tower, soaring above them.The contrast is like heaven and hell. Of their house nothing is left, with little effort the ground will be cleared entirely, and a mansion for the wealthy will be built. The money from selling their land went straight into the pockets of the township head, the township magistrate.

Han Bing lian said, his house and compound had an area of 147 square meters. They gave them 1) two 2 bedroom residences on the edge of the 5th ring, without a certificate of property rights. 2) compensation of 6080 yuan for every square meter. At present the going market price in Xiaohongmen for real estate is over 26,000 yuan per square meter, or four times higher.

The demolition group made each household sign their agreement in secret. For each household the compensation amount is not the same. What is the same is that after signing they all had to write a pledge, stating that they were moving voluntarily. This is as if Yang Bailao in “The White-haired girl” sold his daughter, and then pledged this was a voluntary act!

Wu Lihong’s house has long since been changed into a construction site, busy day and night with heavy construction machines making a such a din it is impossible to sleep. (Large scale construction trucks are not allowed to enter Beijing city during the day). For three years Wu Lihong wrote over a hundred written appeals to the government, but the situation just got worse and worse, and she was never able to achieve a settlement.

On 2011-02-23 at 8 in the morning, Wu Lihong’s dog began barking like crazy at the roof. Wu Lihong went out her gate to look, and the arm of a construction site crane was turning over her roof, dangling a bundle of steel pipes, about to unload them at the entrance to her house. Wu Lihong called 110 (the police emergency number). The police came, but did not get out of their car, saying, The house is undergoing regular construction, we have no cause to intervene. Wu Lihong said, They by this dangerous method of working threaten my house and the safety of those in it. If you don’t intervene, I myself will. Wu Lihong then stood under the arm of the crane, and prevented them from releasing their bundle.

The police took the side of supporting the construction. Several burly men rushed forward, and dragged Wu Lihong away. Wu Lihong got up, and stood again in her original position. At that time the crane’s arm was only several meters above the ground. Wu Lihong stood firm, under the crane arm, she was determined to die if necessary.  The large men did not dare drag her away. It is possible they were scared of being hit by the crane’s bundle. The crane arm continued to descend, until it hung right above Wu Lihong’s head. This was recorded by a netizen who had rushed  to the scene (photo below). The netizen said he was so scared, his hands were trembling and he could hardly hold the camera.

Everyone began to come out and surrounded the police to watch. They all started talking at the same time, asking the police questions. Finally the police got out of their car. They called to the construction workers and took them to one side to talk. No one knows what they said, but the crane arm swung back inside the construction site, which was enclosed by a wall, and the construction workers left. From what people heard, it seemed like the police had been the ones telling the construction workers what to do all along. Wu Lihong filed a complant for administrative redress at Chaoyang District Court, that the police were not carrying out their duty to protect public safety, but lost the suit.

2011-02-25 Wu Lihong and her grandfather went out for a stroll early in the morning, and found 2 mountains of dirt blocking the road. The mounds were two meters high, completely blocking the road. Looking closely, they were made up of building fragments. Too bad they weren’t made of dirt, then they could have used them to plant trees, or vegetables.

The CP Central Committee and the State Council have expressly directed, it is not permitted to cut off the water supply,  or the electricity.  It is forbidden to block a road, or pile up trash. But in the end, the township CP committee hoodwinks the public. When a wind from the CP Central Committee  blows over the territory under jurisdiction of the township, the leaves on the trees do not move at all!

2011-02-28.Wu Lihong was about to go out of her gate, when her way was blocked by the township public security director Zhang Wei, accompanied by three young men. He said to her, The township CP committee had decided, that for several days you will not leave your house. Wu Lihong said, I am not a party member, how can the CP committee have control over me? Zhang Wei answered, The CP committee is the highest authority. It administers over everything, how can it not administer over you? Because of the upcoming meeting of the“joint assembly”(the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress) it was decided not to permit you to go out, we are afraid you will submit a protest to the higher authorities. Wu Lihong said, What you are doing is illegal, so you know that? Zhang Wei replied, What I know is that I am in authority –what I say, you must do. Wu Lihong pushed her way through, and when Zhang Wei saw that he couldn’t stop her, he hurriedly phoned and asked for instructions. He then said to Wu Lihong, if you leave home, I have no choice but to take you in my car. The car was an old and shabby white minivan, with a piece of paper taped on one window, “Security Vehicle” –a local government car. Wu Lihong was forced to get in, and was taken away.

2011-03-05. It was the opening of the National People’s Congress. Wu Lihong and fellow activists had an appointment to consult concerning their case. At 7:50 in the morning when Wu Lihong was leaving home, members of the village committee Wang Daming and Zhang Botao followed her, saying, If you intend to petition the higher authorities, you will not be allowed to leave here.

Wu Lihong of course did not agree. She said, I am going to walk by myself. I’m not going to ride in your car. She said this as she was walking, but the two followed and made her ride in their car.  The car started off and when it was near Fangzhuang qiaonan, they suddenly said, We got a phone call,  the higher-ups said you can’t go out, we have no choice but to make you go back home. Immediately they turned the car around. At once Wu Lihong dialed 110 [the equivalent of 911], to inform the police, and said to them her personal liberty was being forcibly restricted by members of the village committee. Shortly after that, taking advantage of the fact that the car had stopped at a red light, she suddenly got out of the car.

The  Fangzhuang qiaonan area is under the jurisdiction of the Tiejiangying police sub-station. Pretty soon, officers with badge numbers 041242 and 042055 arrived. These two policemen stood on the roadside and listened to Wu Lihong tell her story, while the village committee members stood, not far off but not too near, and watched.

Wu Lihong had just finished explaining her situation, when a police car with flashing lights and siren came speeding up. With a screech the driver slammed on the brakes. Several policemen jumped out of the car and approached.One of them was the police chief of Xiaohongmen, Wang Yuan, with patrolman Han Qiang. They wasted no time. Like a hawk grabbing a small bird in its talons, they dragged Wu Lihong to their car,  and left, with the siren screaming. The policemen from the Tiejiangying police sub-station just stared, dumbfounded.

Within the next 20 or 30 minutes, eight or nine of Wu Lihong’s friends were driven to the Xiaohongmen station in police cars, (they were all considered to be “under guard for life or death”). They were uneasy, afraid Wu Lihong had sustained some injury. Wu Lihong was shut in a large room in the east side of the station behind bars. She realized her friends had come there, and she shouted out to them. As a result, the police chief Wang Yuan dragged her to a room further away. His breath smelled of liquor, he had taken off his coat and hat, he used filthy language and swore. Right at 11 a.m. Wu Lihong heard a welcome hubbub of voices from her supporters, “Wu Lihong,  time to go home and eat lunch.”

Before this hubbub of voices had died away, there was the sound of cursing. Patrolman Han Qiang unexpectedly began pushing and kicking Wu Lihong’s supporters to drive them out of the station. In the courtyard, Ye Jinghuan asked him, Why are you being violent? As a policeman, don’t you ensure public security? (Han Qiang was dressed in sports clothes). Han Qiang grabbed Ye Jinghuan by the collar of her coat and threw her to the ground. He screamed at her, “You piece of shit thief! What are you doing?” The other friends began yelling. Hearing the voice, some other policemen outside came in to see, and Han Qiang turned around and left. Wu Lihong was shut in the station for 6 hours. She was allowed to go home at 3 in the afternoon.

From that day on, patrolman  Han Qiang personally stood guard outside Wu Lihong’s house. On the morning of 3-09,  Han Qiang saw Wu Lihong leaving her house, and he said to her, Today the central authorities are having an assembly. I cannot allow you to leave Xiaohongmen township, the territory under my jurisdiction. You have two choices: either stay at home, or you will go to the police station. Wu Lihong said, You cannot restrict my freedom.  Han Qiang said, I can, I can restrict your freedom, I know I can. If you go out of Xiaohongmen township, that would wreck my livelihood (lit.,”smash my ricebowl”). Why do you want to make me lose my job? The way of the world today is irrational, and this demolition and removal policy is another example of that irrationality.  You have seven or eight people who read your blog on the internet, aren’t they fanning you on? The one who is going to smash and trample on them, is me. There are many situations of non-compliance with the law, and today it is your turn. Fighting for your rights against demolition is your affair, but the higher authorities are making it such that your affair has become my affair too. You cannot ruin my livelihood! You smash my ricebowl, I’m betting my life against yours!

Wu Lihong was forced to stay within the boundary of Xiaohongmen township, only going out to buy vegetables, until the Joint Assembly (of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress) ended on 3-16. Only then did she regain her freedom. She filed an accusation with the Chaoyang district court claiming “unlawful restriction of personal liberty” When the defendants brought forth their proof, Wu Lihong for the first time understood that she had been targeted by the Xiaohongmen township CP committee as a security risk, because of “dissatisfaction with the government” and “resistance to demolition.”

During the period of the National Joint Assembly, those who had undergone forcible demolition, Han Qifang, Han Binglian and others, were made to stay in the Lehong Guesthouse, which the CP committee uses as a lock-up under non-regular circumstances. The committee hired some 20 unemployed persons, who divided into three shifts, watched over the ”guests,” not allowing them to leave the guesthouse until the Assembly was over.  To safeguard stability how much money do they have to lay out? Spending money in this way is an abuse, which brings no tangible benefit to the people.

Xiaohongmen township took over all the land to use it for a commercial development, but they did not have legal certificates to demolish. Therefore Wu Lihong and others sued six times in Chaoyang District Court, and each time it was rejected, on this basis: the villagers by themselves are not recognized legal entities.

Wu Lihong and those villagers who have already lost their houses continue to petition the higher authorities. They each go to the “departments concerned” and ask, Where has the money gone which the Xiaohongmen township CP committee got for selling the land? Where is the money from selling the villager’s homesteads? Why is the Xiaohongmen township CP committee hoodwinking the public?

2011-07-26 Beijing

Wu Lihong 吴丽红 2011-09-12

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