70 year-old Wang Cuiyan lived in China’s Hubei province, in its capital city, Wuhan.
On a morning in March 2010, her house was about to be destroyed. In fact, the 30 to 40 demolition workers on the job had ignored her pleas to stop the destruction and bulldozed a three-metre ditch entirely surrounding Wang Cuiyan’s house.
What happened next depends on who you speak to. Ask the local government officials overseeing the development project, and they’ll tell you it was an accident – Wang fell into the ditch. Speak to Huang Hongxia, Wang’s daughter-in-law, and she’ll say that in the chaos she couldn’t see whether Wang was pushed or fell – but, regardless, the excavator buried Wang with earth.
"We asked them to stop but they wouldn’t listen.” – Huang Hongxia, Wang’s daughter-in-law
"When we turned around, they had already buried her… She was buried deep, deep down and it took a half hour to dig and pull her out”.
70 year-old Wang Cuiyan died that morning, under the earth. Huang: “after a person has been buried for half an hour, how could she be alive?”
The local authorities did not open an investigation into Wang’s death. They did not apologise to her grieving family. Instead, they blocked the road to prevent people paying their condolences, put the family under surveillance and most likely were behind the thugs that appeared to beat them up, to ward them off taking Wang’s case to court.
An Olympic legacy: the bulldozers were only warming up for Beijing 2008
The Chinese government’s behaviour came under international scrutiny ahead of the Beijing Olympics four years ago, when roughly 1.5 million people were uprooted from their homes by the authorities in the eight years leading up to the Games. But this is, depressingly, only a slice of the destruction that’s happened since.
Today we published new evidence of an epidemic of violent evictions by a government intent on putting economic growth via land sales before the human rights of its citizens.
In the wake of the global economic crisis, China saw a spurt in housing construction (and destruction) through a massive spending and development stimulus. It’s not like citizens reap the benefits of the land-sales enabled by the demolishing of their homes: at least 85% of profit typically goes into government pockets. Land sales are, unsurprisingly, the main source of income for local governments. In a harsh economy, there’s incentive to sell, destroy, build. And they'll stop at nothing to make it happen.
What right do you have to stay in your home?
Quite a lot, actually. There are laws protecting your right to stay on your land and certain things any government subscribing to international human rights laws must do, before they bring in the diggers – laws that China subscribes to. But this doesn’t seem to concern the Chinese government, one of the worst offenders in the world right now for violently forcing its citizens into homelessness.
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