Tuesday, May 3, 2011

New Countryside Conflict in Henan

Apartments under construction at Anxi Village

Villagers in Henan have issued a public appeal for help in their struggle against the seizure of their land for an apartment complex and thuggery of communist party officials. The incident opens a window on the exploitation and coercion used to allocate resources when the market mechanism is not allowed to operate.

The incident took place in Anxi village, about 9 miles north of the county town of Jia County in Henan Province. The village has 180 people still living there, mostly old people and children, and just 67.8 mu of land (about 11 acres), not enough to meet basic food needs.

According to the villagers' appeal, township officials devised a plan to build a complex of 5-story condominiums, supposedly as housing for villagers as part of the "new countryside" construction program. The developer of the project was the party secretary's nephew.

Last March the town residents committee signed a rental contract that requisitioned the entire 67.8 mu of land for the project from the No. 2 group of the Anxi village. The contract stipulated that the land would be rented long-term. The compensation for villagers was set at 500 kg of wheat.

After spring festival this year the villagers refused to sign a land rental agreement stating that they voluntarily transferred the land. They complained to upper level authorities. The township authorities sent thugs door to door to force the villagers to sign. They smashed cell phones, broke furniture, and caused general "lawlessness."

The town government and developer, worried that the villagers would cause trouble, hired thugs to patrol the construction site day and night. The developer hired thugs to threaten the villagers that complained. He said, “The land is occupied by the state, whoever makes trouble will get trouble, them and their whole family.” A villager living elsewhere was phoned with a warning: “don’t go home to make land claims. You'll get your hair pulled, slapped around, legs broken.”

The apartments were supposedly built for villagers. The apartments are advertised for sale at 650 to 1600 yuan per square meter, but housing in the county city sells for about the same price. Villagers went to inquire about purchasing the apartments at a favorable price, but they were sent to the developer who said the price is fixed and there is nothing he can do about it.

Promotional material for the apartments
On December 6, 2010, villagers appealed to the Henan Daily for help. A reporter investigated and wrote an article. He found one building already completed and 5 under construction.

The reporter visited the sales office for the project where he was greeted enthusiastically by a salesman. He said the units were nearly sold out. A purchase contract said the land was provided by the Anliang Town New Countryside Construction Office.

A person calling himself the local communist party branch secretary was in the office. When asked what he was doing there, he explained that the developer was an outsider and didn't understand the local situation. He and other party secretaries often are in the office to explain policies to buyers. Villagers told the reporter that many outsiders came to buy these apartments.

The next day the vice-mayor of the town explained to the reporter that this was a new countryside construction project. The town had stopped approving new housing land for several years and this project was constructed to meet the housing needs of villagers. Eligible villagers could apply to buy one of the houses. New cultivated land would be created through land swaps later (how? by tearing down the villagers' old houses?) He said these houses are not for outsiders and there was no developer handling the project--it was being done by the local construction bureau. The vice-mayor said the land was not zoned as farmland. The farmers who wanted to plant crops on it didn't know it was zoned as construction land.

When the reporter asked how the income from the project would be distributed, the town official said the building standards were relatively high and there would be no surplus to distribute.

Villagers say the town leaders blocked distribution of the newspaper containing the article about the dispute. Officials built a wall around the disputed land. On December 22, when villagers went to ask for an explanation, the developer hired thugs to beat up four of the villagers, who were put in hospital. One lady living in the county city heard her 3 mu of land had been seized, and went back to the village for an explanation. The thugs threatened her, saying, “If you come back here we’ll break your legs, don’t ever come back.”

On April 7, villager Cheng Manqiang and others complained to people in the provincial capital. The town vice party secretary made 10 phone calls, making threats to stop them from complaining to upper levels. Town officials and the developer were introduced by a friend at the Zhengzhou City Tax Bureau to someone at the provincial Ministry of Land Resources. For 1.8 million yuan he declared that it was nonarable land that can be converted to construction use land, quashing the villagers' complaint.

The villagers' appeal said that Anliang Town’s government leaders forced them to sign a “land rental contract” and “land requisition agreement”, colluding with the developer to illegally build the housing estate. They "...used gangs to assault us, damaging the image of the party in the eyes of the village masses. We strongly hope that upper level leaders and news organizations can know our situation, carry out an investigation, preserve legal responsibility and return the land we live on."

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