An urgent appeal from Chinese writer Yan Lianke to the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese Prime Minister
Esteemed General Secretary and Prime Minister:
I am a writer and a university professor. Before deciding to write this letter to you, my conscience was buffeted by a storm of hesitation. It was your encouraging and heartfelt speech, General Secretary, delivered a week ago at the opening ceremony of the Eighth National Congress of the Chinese Writers’ Association that has emboldened me to report to you about the forced eviction and demolition of homes that I have witnessed.
Three years ago, I bought a property in Flower City World Garden using royalties from my books and borrowed money. In July this year, 39 families in the compound, including mine, were formally given eviction notices because of the road-widening project on Wanshou Road in Beijing. A few days after receiving the eviction notices, the wall of our compound was demolished at dawn.
Having been told the eviction was for the development of Beijing, the residents initially were cooperative. However, the Demolition and Relocation Office told the residents that regardless of the size or value of their properties, the compensation per household was set at 500,000 yuan, approximately US$ 78,000, and that whoever cooperated would be further awarded 700,000 yuan. Since then, there has been growing discontent among the residents with the local government and the demolition crew. You can imagine how the conflict and confusion surrounding the forced eviction was intensified by quarrels, fighting, theft and bloodshed.
In August this year, the Demolition and Relocation Office stopped mentioning the 700,000 yuan incentive and instead offered each household a one-off compensation package of 1.6 million yuan, or approximately US$250,000. At the same time, the office initiated a countdown to the demolition.
I visited the Demolition and Relocation Office three times and spoke to the person in charge. During each visit, I made it clear that as a citizen, a writer and a university lecturer, I would take the lead and vacate my property to support the development of Beijing. However, as a citizen whose property is about to be demolished, I requested to view the official documents relating to the road-widening project. I simply wanted to know a few things: how much of the residential zone would be required for the road-widening and how many properties would really need to be demolished. I wanted to know how the compensation was calculated and why the compensation was set at a flat 1.6 million yuan rather than based the area of the properties. In short, all I wanted to see was that the demolition process would more or less follow government regulations and legal procedures and that property owners would be provided with some information. The response I received was along the lines of “everything has already been decided by higher authorities” and “it’s confidential”.
Other residents also made numerous trips to city and district governments to appeal and seek resolution through legal channels but for various reasons the local courts declined to hear the case.
On 24 November, things took an even more bizarre turn. The government of Huaxiang in Fengtai District issued a document to all owners who had received eviction notices. The document stated that on 23 September, law enforcement officials discovered houses with no registered occupants as well as houses without their addresses registered with local authorities. Therefore, these houses were deemed illegal structures and would be forcibly demolished at 8 am on the 30th of November. (In fact, Flower City World Garden has existed for six years.)
I went to the compound this morning where I saw crowds of people and groups of uniformed men and many vehicles blocking access. I saw banners hanging in front of all the houses facing demolition proclaiming, “We pledge to sacrifice our blood and lives to defend our homes!” I saw emotional residents who were indeed ready to sacrifice their lives.
No one knew what would happen during a forced demolition. No local government official was there to mediate with the residents. It appeared that blood could be shed at any moment in this game of cat-and-mouse—if not today, then surely tomorrow. Many residents are determined to live and die with their homes.
Esteemed General Secretary and Prime Minister, as a citizen who is about to lose his home, as a university lecturer and a well-known writer, I have to say this was a shocking scene to witness and experience for myself. The administrators of the People’s University of China where I am employed also attempted to communicate on my behalf with the local government. They were told that the demolition must proceed. You can imagine the distress felt by residents who have nowhere else to go.
As a Chinese citizen, I love my country dearly. As a writer, I am willing to give all I have to promote Chinese culture. As a university professor, I hope to see my students able to study and grow up in a loving and harmonious environment. It is because of my foolish dream of bearing the weight of our nation on my shoulders that I am writing this urgent appeal to you.
I hope the local government will stop playing this game of cat-and-mouse with people whose houses they want to demolish.
I hope this matter can be resolved in a timely manner, in a more rational and a humane way.
I hope all parties will learn from this incident, so that in future there will be fewer farcical forced demolition cases like this, and the Chinese people will live a more dignified life, as Premier Wen frequently stresses.
I hope Chinese people—citizens of China—are given more access to information and can enjoy a greater sense of security and happiness.
My apologies for taking up your time.
30 November, 2011