Monday, September 22, 2014

Xian: the Chinese village that beat corruption

To find the villagers who toppled one of southern China’s most powerful men, start just east of the Canton tower, an LED-lit column twisting more than 500 metres into the cloud cover. Head north, past two blocks of luxury apartments, until you come to a high concrete wall. Behind its gates, you’ll find Xian village.
Xian is the size of about eight football pitches, but it feels much larger. Most of its 4,000 residents live three or four to a room, up filthy staircases in boxy concrete mid-rise blocks of flats. Its tangle of dark, narrow alleys winds in on itself like a labyrinth.
On a recent rainy night, about 300 villagers gathered in the Lu family ancestral hall, a centuries-old grey-brick building next to a dilapidated kindergarten, for a traditional Cantonese feast. Some performed a lion dance with a big, black papier-mache lion. Since 19 August 2009, the villagers have been waging an open protest against official corruption and every summer they gather to celebrate their progress. This year’s banquet was especially festive. Just the day before, after years of ignoring or censoring the revolt, state media syndicated a report applauding Xian village for uncovering an “iron triangle of corruption” among village officials, two local developers and the city’s deputy mayor, Cao Jianliao. Cao was placed under investigation in December. In July, he was sacked.
“Over the past year, our lives have got better; our hearts are calmer,” said Lu Jingfeng, 43, captain of the village football team, as he tucked into a plate of roasted pork belly. “But our demands have not yet been met. So we’ll keep on fighting.”
Xian village is one of 138 “urban villages” scattered throughout Guangzhou, a sprawling, 13 million-people metropolis at southern China’s economic core. Municipal authorities consider the villages at best an eyesore, and at worst, a slum-like breeding ground for social unrest. They announced plans in 2010 to redevelop every one within the decade.
“Guangzhou has seen a severe shortage of land for buildings,” one reconstruction official said. Yet most are still standing, as many of their residents refuse to leave.
Xian village was not always surrounded by a high, concrete wall – local authorities built it in 2011. Make conditions unbearable, the logic went, and the villagers would leave. A cabal of powerful developers – Jiayu Group, Nanya Property Development, Qiaoxin Real Estate, Poly Real Estate – were anxious to turn the prime patch of land into luxury apartments and office blocks.
Yet the wall, just like the beatings, arrests and forced demolitions before it, only amplified the steady drumbeat of marches and petitions. The villagers were recalcitrant. Even now, they live amid swaths of utter devastation. Parts of the village evoke recent images of Gaza and urban Syria. Weeds grow from mountains of rubble. Concrete apartment blocks sit half-demolished, their windows blown out, their exposed tangles of reinforcement bars splayed like severed nerves.
Similar scenarios are playing out across China, as Communist party authorities attempt to move 250 million rural people into cities by 2025. It may be the largest social engineering experiment in human history, and Xian village typifies the challenge. Under Chinese law, urban land is owned by the government and rural land is owned collectively by villagers. Yet the quickest, easiest way for local governments to fill their coffers is by requisitioning that land and flipping it to developers. The less they spend, the greater their profits. Often, they bribe village leaders to keep prices low, and the villagers themselves end up withmeagre compensation packages for valuable land that they have owned for centuries.
“I can’t even count the number of demonstrations we’ve had,” said Ms Lu, 40, who calls defending the village her full-time job. Many villagers, when asked about the protests, will roll up a sleeve or trouser leg and point to where they have been hit by a fist or a policeman’s truncheon. During one protest, a man lost his leg to a falling concrete slab. Lu, who declined to give her full name for fear of reprisals, has a short bob haircut, a round face and soft, lilting voice that belies an undercurrent of outrage. In 2010, a police officer hit Lu hard in the calf as she ran from a fracas.
“We don’t leave the village for fear that they’ll come and destroy it,” she said. “If anything happens, we need to stay here and resist. We need to fight back when people attack us. We need to protect each other.”.. read more:
See also
The Crises of Party Culture: by Yang Guang
The crises of Party culture become clear with a single glance. The CPC is called the ruling party, yet it operates according to secret party rules: this is an identity crisis. Its formal ceremonies and slogans are like those of an extremist church, and it has long lost its utopian doctrine that stirred the passion of the people: this is an ideological crisis. It tells beautiful lies while accepting bribes & keeping mistresses: this is a moral crisis. The totalitarian system is in the process of collapsing, yet political reform is not in the foreseeable future: this is a political crisis. It has corrupted traditional values & also rejected universal values, rendering Party members & government officials at a spiritual loss: this is a crisis of values.