In a demolition incident in Yanqing county of Beijing last week, an eviction squad wore helmets and targeted powder fire extinguishers at property owners determined to resist relocation. It seems that local authorities have learned their lesson from previous self-immolation tragedies, at least partially.
Last month in Lianyungang of Jiangsu province, a 92-year-old father and his 68-year-old son set themselves on fire to protect the family's pig farm from being demolished by the local government. The farm was torn down anyway, the son died, and the father suffered severe burns.
That was not the first case of self-immolation during a forced demolition. In December, middle-aged female entrepreneur Tang Fuzhen in Chengdu, Sichuan, stood on the roof of her house and doused gasoline all over herself to try to scare away a demolition team led by local government officials. No one listened to her pleas, and she set herself ablaze. She died in a hospital 16 days later.
Many of the buildings involved in such cases are labeled "illegal", and those who refuse to relocate are called "nail households". Sabotage of water, heat, gas or power supplies is frequently used to drive them away. Disagreement on compensation is always regarded as the cause of the conflicts, which can escalate into "violent resistance to the law" involving Molotov cocktail assaults and suicides.
But, can we simply blame those victims for being greedy? Since ancient times, the Chinese have been known for profound feelings about their own homes, which, like the tree of souls in Avatar, are the root of people's lives. Regardless of the compensation issue, it is brutal and inhumane to kick ordinary people out of their homes in a savage way.
Forced demolition constitutes not only an infringement on private property rights, but also a breach of the property law as well as the Constitution. Moreover, the way some local officials have carried out demolition reveals a lack of respect for life.
Requests for compensation based on market price as demanded by homeowners are fair and square. Even if an agreement cannot be reached, the disputes over compensation shall be resolved in court, rather than in a violent showdown.
A close reading of the relevant reports shows that demolitions are often carried out in the name of public interest. But there are a lot of reports about collusions between local officials and real estate developers, which keep us wondering: is the demolition in the interest of the public, or of officials and developers?
Disney-Pixar's animated movie "UP" was based on a real story in Seattle. Thanks to her persistence, Edith Macefield succeeded in keeping her home. She achieved worldwide fame in 2006 when she turned down $1 million to sell her home to make way for a commercial development.
Finally, the five-story project was built around her 108-year-old farmhouse, where she died at age 86. She was dubbed "No 1 Nail Household in the US" by Chinese netizens. We hope we can have at least one Edith Macefield in China.