The Joys of Living in China

Yup. Woke up this morning to the SZ police force outside the gates of our apartment complex, Zhonghai Huating. They brought 6 riot vans and two busses full of police to make sure that the housewives, maids and others at home wouldn’t disrupt their appropriation of land for the SZ metro company. (I was asked by other landlords to edit this paragraph–this is not the original version).

I’ve talked about the “process” we’ve been involved in with the SZ govt and the Metro before. It’s process in name only–I mean, how much respect can you give a system where, in a meeting in the offices of the local government, the head of the SZ Metro delegation says: “you can die for all I care! And if you protest we’ll arrest you just like we arrested the others.”

Guess he’s made good on his threat.

A couple of landlords were indeed hauled away this AM. I came out later and starting taking photos and was immediately pushed and ask/told to leave. Of course being a bull-headed American, I didn’t. We argued about the fact that I’m not only a landlord but there are no signs prohibiting me from taking photos of my own property (that the police were standing on). After 20 or so minutes, a call came and the police said that I could take photos. So I immediately started snapping pics of the guy who tried to stop me in the first place. Round two of “no pictures” started immediately. “You can take pictures” means, I guess, I can take photos of everything but the guy who told me no–you can see him with his hand up in the photos–more photos went to a couple of newspapers already.

Now, I understand eminent domain. But there are both limits and requirements on what can be taken. First we were not offered any compensation for our land. Second, we were not told of the timing of the construction. And third, we weren’t given any health studies on the construction of the exhaust fans that are going to be put in our fishpond/garden.

Further, 300+ police with water cannons and riot gear (in the trucks) for a construction project in the middle of a Wednesday AM at a private residence? Me thinks they over reacted just a bit.

Some interesting reactions from the mornings events. First, Chinese neighbors cheered when I showed up and started taking pictures. They chanted and told me they supported me. I wasn’t looking for anything but some good shots as I’ve pretty much resigned myself the the fact that the government doesn’t care (the “you can die” comment sealed the deal for me weeks ago). They cheered when I made a smart (ass) comment and screamed in the face of the policemen that were trying to stop me. They knew that being foreign means being different–sometimes thats a good thing.

Second, the police were not as willing to arrest a foreigner as they were the locals earlier. They threatened to arrest me and I put my hands behind my back and offered myself up and they backed off and just told me to leave. Indeed, they wanted me out of the way as quickly as possible. Again being foreign kept me out of jail when others were tied up and hauled off.

Third, the police were very very intimidating to the locals. The local screamed and yelled but except for the couple that got hauled off, they did exactly what they were told to do–stand back, leave the work alone and go home or go to jail. Surprisingly vitriolic but at the same time passive.

Fourth, the words used to talk to me came in two very distinct styles. First, was from an assumed power position. I was told/asked things like: “Do you know who I am?” “Do you want me to arrest you?” “Leave now!” “You can’t take photos here–you have no right!” “I’ll give you some face, you just leave now.” The second position came later as the people were more riled up and after I had offered to be arrested. “Please leave.” “Please support our work here.” And of course “OK, you can take pictures now.”

The problem is, I don’t support the work. I’m very much against the land appropriation by the SZ government for a company (the SZ metro) when we were given nothing but threats as compensation.

If you think that I’m just down on China or that this is really a new, modern China and I just don’t get it, think again. Much in China is recent, clean and different to be sure. But much of the current problems are the same horror stories you read about 10 years ago. There are great opportunities and scary problems here side by side. Illegal land appropriation by local governments is not unique to our housing complex–it’s happening thousands of times a year all over China–famous stories include the old lady in Chongqing, the Beijing Hutongs and the riots/arrests in multiple cities in Guangdong province late last year.

I’m here for the opportunities…but at what price?

Continue Reading Part II.

2 Responses to “The Joys of Living in China”

  1. […] foreign property owner in Shenzhen gets caught up in a land appropriation dispute with local authorities. [Silk Road International […]

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