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Forced Demolition: The story of young Chang Liang's life
Feng Changle, The Epoch Times
10/14/2004

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When young Beijing resident Chang Liang speaks of his parents' Heavenly Light photo studio being forcefully demolished or of the untold miseries and hardships his family has experienced, his stories always bring tears to the listeners’ eyes. Among the ordinary citizens living in Beijing under the CCP's autocratic rule, cases like Chang's are countless.

Chang’s father, Chang Yongxing, 68, and his mother, Li Ying, 58, live together with his grandparents, the foster mother of his father, and his sister (who is sick with a mental disease), in the Zhongguancun section of Beijing. Chang’s parents had retired before the 1980s. In order to assist those once involved in fighting against the CCP rival Kuomingtang (KMT) government (Chang's grandfather was once a high-ranking military officer in the insurrection against the KMT), the Chinese government used a section of the south wall of Peking University as a wall for a new house that it built for the family. Chang's parents, after retiring, turned the house into a photo studio to support the family. At that time, the family lived a peaceful, relatively prosperous and worry-free life.

In 1993, Peking University’s Resources Group decided to demolish 600 meters of the wall for the construction of a commercial street. At that time the family signed an agreement with the Group allowing them to continue using the section of the wall to which their photo studio was connected up until 2018. Yet in 2001, Peking University decided to demolish the commercial street next to the school's south gate and rebuild the south wall higher and thicker than before. The area to be demolished included the Heavenly Light photo studio.

On April 21, 2001, the photo studio suddenly received notice that their water supply and power would be cut off. The notice said that the area would be demolished and reorganized. In order to keep their business running, the family brought in a power generator. Afraid to leave it outside lest it be stolen, the family brought the generator inside. Those in the room who breathed in the fumes discharged by the machine were sometimes poisoned or became disoriented. The family appealed to relevant government offices or personnel to get power and running water back, but received no help.

At 9:00 p.m. on June 26, 2003, a forklift rumbled over to the photo studio. In a short period of time, the store was reduced to a pile of rubble. Chang Liang's parents had received no notice or warning of the imminent demolition before it occurred; the decision to destroy the Chang family's building passed through neither a court of law nor through arbitration. The photo equipment and tools that the mother and father depended on for their livelihood were destroyed in an instant. The parents, stunned to the point of being unable to cry, had no choice but to defend what remained of their property against the illegal demolition.

A Pervasive Problem

The Chang family’s example is merely a microcosm of the problem of forced evictions and demolitions, which began to grow in the 1980s after China began to open up its market and engage in economic reforms. The phenomenon has picked up steam in the 1990s with the rapid rise of land values in major cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, and has become even more prevalent with the coming of the 2008 Summer Olympics to Beijing, which has caused developers and local officials to rush to modernize the city.

According to the Kyodo News Service, developers and demolition companies have evicted 10 million Chinese people from their homes. Sometimes local officials or developers will negotiate a compensation price with tenants soon to be evicted. Yet if tenants are unsatisfied with their compensation or simply refuse to be evicted, developers will send police to forcibly remove tenants or will even begin to demolish the property with the residents inside, forcing the latter to flee for safety.

In the case of the Chang family, The Jingcheng Demolition Company, responsible for dispatching the forklift, had Mr. Xu Jian, a local official, meet with the family to negotiate a compensation price. Xu offered over 1,000 yuan per square meter (US$11 per square foot) of the demolished building. Yet to the Chang family, losing the property on which their lives depended on was tantamount to a death sentence. They appealed to the government, but only a military officer took the pains to record their appeals, and later failed to follow up on it. No one cared about their situation.

For evictees, there is little or no legal recourse against demolishers or developers. Regulations do exist allowing residents to appeal for arbitration or bringing a lawsuit against developers. In both cases, however, corruption within the system dims the possibility of tenants gaining deserved compensation or the protection of their property. Oftentimes city and demolition departments have close and dubious connections with demolition or development firms. Development companies can also use bribes and other illegal means to interfere with residents’ attempts at legal remedies for their problems.

Evictees are then often driven to despair or desperation, sometimes resorting to radical means to draw attention to their plights.

Protests and Suicides

According to a report from the New-York based NGO Human Rights in China, 200 citizens have died from health problems or from suicide following their forced evictions and the demolitions of their homes. Some have gone as far as to set themselves on fire in public places such as Tiananmen Square to protest the trampling of their rights.

In 2003, due to years of inability to pay for medical treatment, Chang Liang's grandmother passed away. By March 6, 2004, the Chang family was nearing the end of their savings. Chang Yongxing, unable to find a way to alleviate his family’s sufferings, attempted to commit suicide by hanging himself. He was discovered in time to be rescued, but lost his vision because of damage his body had suffered.

Li Ying, who constantly cried and wailed from distress, agonized over the family’s situation to the point that she began to develop palsy in part of her body and was recently discovered to have cerebral cancer. The Chang money barely has enough money to buy food to survive. They were able to mortgage their house to a friend for 100,000 yuan (US$12,000), but nearly all of this money has gone towards the mother’s medical expenses.

Chang Liang and Li Ying often went to appeal to the government as well as to the complaints department, public security, and administration of Peking University, yet to no avail. In the beginning of 2004, Li, under intense mental anxiety and with the pains of injustice in her heart, began to succumb to her cerebral cancer. She currently resides in a Navy Hospital and has undergone surgery twice. According to Chang, however, though his mother is on a sickbed, she remains determined to resist the injustice forced upon her. Knowing that is highly unlikely, however, she hopes for little more than a word of fairness from the government.

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