Zhu Ling, 50, comes from a small village in the east of Beijing. In 2009, the local government made an offer to buy the properties of local villagers, in order to redevelop the land. Zhu’s 11 bedroom home, which she also rented to young people to make a living, was among those demolished. One apartment building now stands on the lot, but the arrangements made along the way have left Zhu impoverished. For the past several years she has been trying to rectify the situation and achieve redress through the court system.
*The World of Chinese does not verify or endorse the statements of petitioners in this segment, and views expressed by the interviewee are not necessarily the views of TWOC. The World of Chinese does not challenge or endorse the statements regarding court judgments or allegations that may be made by the interviewee. Names may be redacted where the editorial staff deem pertinent, and, if requested, a pseudonym will be used for the interviewee’s protection. The petitioners who come to Beijing are some of the most diverse, interesting, patriotic, and heroic people in China. These are their stories.
–Managing Editor, Tyler Roney
Can you describe your home and life before the demolition?
I worked for the Xinghai Piano Factory, and before that I was a farmer. The house had 11 bedrooms, my family occupied two of them. It also had a little courtyard. Along one side there were flowers, hawthorn plants and pomegranate trees. I rented out the rooms to young people. There were graduate students, young people who had just started working. Some of them were couples sharing a room, but most were a single person in a room. They didn’t have much income, which was why they were staying with me, quite far from the city, it was all they could afford. They were all nice people.
So when did your troubles start?
It was late September, early October in 2009. The village committees of six villages sent us all letters, using the name of the township government, saying they would start demolition of the area on the 22nd of October.
What was the name of your village?
Dingfuzhuangxicun, but people call it Dingxi for short. It is under the Sanjianfang township government, part of Chaoyang District of Beijing.
Ok, so what happened?
The village committee put up a notice before the 22nd, and said the demolition would be completed within a week. They told us that we would be able to return to the same area, but a new building, in three-and-a-half years. People started to talk, it was a small village. The village committee sent people around asking us to sign agreements.
What was the agreement?
It was compensation, based on policies laid down in 2001. Prices have changed a lot since then. They offered us 500 to 800 yuan per square meter, and we would be able to buy space in the new apartments at 1,600 yuan per square meter, and in the meantime, in those three-and-a-half years, we would have to rent another place. My property was 160 square meters. Under the agreement, I could only buy a maximum of that many square meters in the new building at the 1,600 yuan price. The compensation offered was much lower than that which had been offered to a nearby village. I am not sure how much they were offered, but they ended up with much larger apartments as compensation.
So you signed?
There came one night in early November (2009), at that point most of the properties had not been demolished but about 20 percent had been. The remaining 80 percent were united and planning to go to the city government, a higher level of government, to protest the agreement. But that night it snowed. Our water was cut off, the road was blocked, and men from the village committee went from house to house to talk to the owners. They put pressure on them to sign. There were lots of old people who compromised. By the next morning, there were only 20 to 30 households holding out.
Then what happened?
We went to the bureau of letters and visits under the Beijing city government with the documents we had. The city government had told us that if there were more than 20 people protesting, we should send five representatives. I was one of them. They said “蛋糕就这么大，看你们怎么分了”. (The cake is only so big, how you divide it is up to you).
I ended up signing the agreement.
So for three and a half years, you rented.
Yes, I moved three times in that period. It was a difficult time.
So what happened with the development?
They built one building there, the rest of the lot is empty, filled with trash. I bought two apartments, each around 84 square meters. But that went over the 160 square meter limit, so seven square meters cost 3,440 yuan each. I heard other people, children of officials who were single, got more square meters allocated. I thought it was very unfair.
I started protesting and going through the court system because the developer didn’t have any of the verifying documents, I still don’t have the formal documents of ownership for my apartment. The building elevator is often out of order. I live on the 14th floor, people who live on the 20th floor have to walk up all those stairs. The building has a name, but it doesn’t show up on any maps like Baidu.
Who were the developers?
I don’t think it’s safe to say that. Can we say that? It’s risky. They are *********, but I don’t think we should say their name.
Ok, we’ll take out their name. So what happened with your attempts in court?
We went to the Chaoyang Bureau of Housing and Construction. They ignored us. So we went to the office of administrative reconsideration under the Chaoyang District Government. They ordered the Chaoyang Bureau of Housing and Construction to pay a fine, it was a certain percentage of the budget for construction. They were also told to get all the permissions and certificates completed. This was in February of this year. It’s been eight months but none of these things have been carried out, which is why I am still trying to seek fairness from the courts.
Can you elaborate on your experiences with the court?
I took it to the Chaoyang District Court, but it was rejected. They didn’t say why exactly, they said we didn’t qualify because we didn’t meet conditions for appeal, and they just listed a law. I looked up the law and have launched a second appeal, listing all the reasons why I meet the criteria. I am still waiting for a response.
I have decided that approaching this through the courts is a better way than protesting. But I have had some unpleasant experiences. I wanted to learn more about court cases so I went to the Fangshan (another district of Beijing) Courthouse to observe a case. I had a phone with me, and they accused me of recording or filming. They took the phone off me to find evidence I had been recording it. They didn’t find anything and I said they weren’t acting according to the law. They grabbed me by the arms and took me to the basement and put a black hood over my head and handcuffed my hands behind my back. I was there from 10am to 5pm, and had no food, water or bathroom break. They brought in three others and they had the same experience.
Despite this, I think the court system is getting better on the surface. More people believe in it. I think the case filing system has improved this year, in the past if you mailed your case it wouldn’t get through the door.
How has this affected your life?
I suffered from depression. I have gone on medication, and my husband has been sick. He had heart surgery, which wiped out a lot of our savings. He had previously been a construction worker, now he can’t really do that anymore. The leaders of the protest were arrested, now a few years later, there are almost none of us left. Our daughter attended college in Shanghai when all this happened, now she’s back in Beijing, working. We feel insecure because we don’t even have any property ownership certification and we think the building is illegal.
What are your hopes for the future?
We hope our efforts can help make society fairer. I think that officials work harder than us, and I do think they have a right to make more money than we do, but we want to make sure it isn’t too much more. 让我们吃饭，让我们活着就行 (let us eat, let us live a decent life). I hope for more information transparency and that we can find a better way to deal with conflicts.
Check out our earlier Petitioners’ Tales entries:
Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, Vol. 4, Vol. 5, Vol. 6, Vol. 7, Vol. 8.
Photograph provided by 北京三间房朱秀玲.
Interview condensed and edited for clarity and brevity.