A “village mergers” program in China’s Shandong province has been suspended by authorities after it was criticised by the ruling Chinese Communist Party in the face of growing public anger.
Government land grabs in rural areas in China have sparked mass unrest and resistance for decades.
The Shandong resettlement program was ambitious in scope, and had been packaged as a bid to improve the lives of farming communities in a total revamp of rural areas.
But local residents told RFA that the program had left them homeless and with no income, compensation or social security assistance.
Xiao Li, a resident of Xinxing township in Shandong’s Lanling county, said his family had fled their home to escape ruthless harassment by the authorities after they tried to say no to the resettlement plan.
Their idyllic courtyard extended family home that had been renovated in 2009 was demolished in their absence.
Shandong provincial party secretary Liu Jiayi announced at end of June that the controversial resettlement program would be suspended.
“The projects that are controversial among people and the ones that have not been launched yet should be suspended and checked again,” Liu said in comments quoted by the Global Times, which has close ties to the People’s Daily.
Liu added that the program had been “rashly” implemented, it said.
Village mergers and rural development programs in other parts of China haven’t usually involved people being forced out of their homes, the paper said.
But families whose homes have already been lost say they have seen no compensation, no resettlement accommodation and no government subsidies to help them get by.
“I haven’t received anything,” Xiao Li told RFA. “I am living at a friend’s place right now. I’m homeless.”
“They have destroyed everything, and I am pretty much a beggar now. I rely on my friend to feed me,” he said.
Six other Xinling residents told RFA that, as of July 24, they had yet to receive compensation linked to the scheme’s suspension, and that they had already exhausted all of the possible options when it came to government relief.
According to a June 25 commentary in the People’s Daily, the original rural development plan was a good one, but its harsh implementation had sparked public anger, partly because people didn’t have a meaningful choice.
“You have to agree to it, or it will affect your children’s college entrance examinations and civil service exams,” the article said, adding that holdouts had been bumped to the top of the demolition gangs’ lists.
Property rights are also lacking in China.
GuoYuhua, sociology professor at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University, said China’s farmers don’t actually own their land but lease it.
“In Chinese law, urban land is owned by the state. But who is the state? Rural land is owned by the collective, but who is the collective?” Guo says, in a reference to the Chinese Communist Party’s control of both entities.
“The land isn’t yours. Property rights are not guaranteed in China at all, and property rights underlie human rights,” he said.
At the 18th Party Congress in 2013, an attempt was made to reform property rights to allow for greater protection for landowners, homeowners and businesses.
But it was overturned personally by Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping.
According to Guo, current policy debates can now only “go around in circles” on issues such as demolition methods, persuasion work, and local finance initiatives.
The fundamental power structure remains the same, however.
“The central government must control everything, and this rule must be maintained behind closed doors. There are no checks or balances on power,” Guo said. (Source: RFA)