Land confiscation and demolitions have become a big threat to China's stability
(BEIJING) Xu Xiaoqi went to seek justice weighed down by an oversized portrait of her dead father, a senior Chinese military officer, its giant frame hanging from her neck as a defiant message to the officials that she is battling.
Once a member of China's protected Communist Party elite, Ms Xu faces the same problem as hundreds of thousands of the country's ordinary farmers and workers - the demolition of a home.
'This is our home, if you want to move us away, you have to give us proper compensation,' said Ms Xu, a slight but assertive 56-year-old newspaper editor.
Demolitions and land confiscation to make way for everything from infrastructure to luxury housing have become one of the biggest threats to China's stability. Cases such as Ms Xu's illustrate how pervasive the problem has become, undermining confidence among even natural supporters of the government.
She grew up as a Communist princess. Her father, Xu Zhizhong, was a major-general under Mao Zedong, the country's revolutionary founder.
The family photo album includes shots of gatherings with Mao and other Party luminaries such as Zhou Enlai. He eventually became Party Secretary of a naval research institute.
His job came with a villa that seems luxurious even today.
With two storeys and high ceilings, it has several bedrooms and a garden, in a city where most people live in cramped apartments.
But it is tucked away in a former military compound and a developer wants to demolish the house as part of a rebuilding plan to add high-rise blocks.
Ms Xu says that she has been offered a poor quality apartment two-thirds her current home's size, and no cash to compensate for the lost space and garden. The developer declined comment on the case when contacted by Reuters.
With her father no longer alive, Ms Xu and her mother say that they have little clout. But Ms Xu is determined to fight.
Outside the 'letters and petitions' offices across the country that are the last resort of citizens seeking redress for problems in a country where both government and courts are controlled by the Communist Party, well over half are usually waiting to lodge complaints about lost homes and land.
Urban land in China is all state-owned, giving officials wide sway to develop it as they see fit. According to the law, rural land is collectively owned by villagers, but in practice, officials have overwhelming control over it too.
Often, evictees are given compensation that is scant compared to the value of the land taken, tiny apartments in remote suburbs, or have compensation siphoned away by corrupt officials.
Some might consider Ms Xu lucky. She has been offered a reasonable sized home just beside her current place.
But doing better than other evictees is not the point, she said. By law, the company profiting from redevelopment should have to compensate her for all her losses.
The government is exploring reforms to ensure more rights and compensation for housing and land taken by developers. But those in disputes say that they have yet to see changes on the ground.
Ms Xu also says that she has been attacked - she brandishes photos of herself on the ground - and her 83-year-old mother is harassed by workers, who shout abuse at her and say that Ms Xu will be kicked out as soon as her mother is no longer around.
Ms Xu's petitioning has so far got her nowhere.
But she continues to push. She has joined a US-based campaign for Chinese citizens protesting about property disputes and consulted lawyers last week about going to the court.
'We have to keep struggling with this. Otherwise, what hope do we have left in life?' - Reuters
Source: Business Times, 15 Jun 2010