“The development potential of prime sites, aided by the expedient push for “civilised” urban environments, has put city governments across the country on a collision course with rural China. Nowhere is the face-off more evident than in the conflicts over urban village land, which rankle at the core of all the stories in this book. But these conflicts are ultimately about far more central issues nagging at China’s urban future: corrupt institutions and weak civil society. These may sound like separate concerns, but the following stories show how inseparable they are”
As any attentive spectator that’s been following China’s truly unparalleled urban expansion over the last decade will know, it’s caused one of the biggest migrations of people on the planet (rural to urban), but also devoured mind-bogglingly gigantic tracts of pastoral land – brutally converting them into urban epicenters at a pace of production (the cities are often built before a sufficient populace is in place, hence “ghost cities”, many of which will probably not remain “ghost” for too long) that’s unprecedented in human history. Among this immolation of natural land & explosion of concrete, glass & steel are the human stories & communities, this book being specifically about those that dare to resist the expropriations, forced removals, demolitions, relocations & “regeneration projects” that are transforming much of the country beyond recognition under economic extravaganza.
So yarns of extraordinary bravery & human persistence against ginormous institutional ogres wielding bureaucratic weapons of beyond-Kafka corruption & coerce. Shocking, tragic but also inspiring, like watching a surfer skimming a tidal wave. Almost everyone is smashed to bits by the grotesque growth & power obsessed juggernaut splintering everything under it’s tank-treads. In addition to the legal methods of strangling civilians into submission, a para-legal resort of “hired thugs”, harassment, intimidation & of course violence carried out by official authorities or chengguan (“mercenary armies of quasi-police”) is administered to those impudent enough to defy the local magnate, property tycoon, party official or unscrupulous real estate entrepreneur rough-riding millions or billions out of dodgy development ventures of steroid-cranked urbanization oblivion more than often of the most peremptory impolitic & odious nature. The municipal-mania is crammed down gullets with crude propaganda garbage & compulsory market subordination with typical monomatum uniform. As one top Communist Party leader of the local municipality frothed before the diggers massed – “He spoke about the possibilities of development and the need to promote local growth. The initials ‘GDP’ were already on everyone’s lips – like a shibboleth, or an incantation. If development was the magic potion that transformed struggling peasants into prosperous citizens, rural land was it’s secret ingredient. Huang Minpeng never forgot the township leaders words: ‘Look, that land of yours will be of no use to you if you don’t develop it. There’s no money in farming the land anymore. You have to move on!’”
Same old shit! The silver bullet to everything “the market/capitalism/growth/expenditure” is also the agent that put you on the stretcher in the first place.
The personal drama captured & committed to print by Bandurski’s great journalism are like rain-drops in a storm or grains of sand in the surf…so many must have been obliterated in this herculean bonanza, the scale & figures are simply ridiculous. Perhaps the heaviest story within involves a young mothers suicide. The description of Li Jie suggested a sweet & vivacious woman. But after her official obsecrations to have her house spared the diggers destruction refused (they arrest & detain her for days & then destroy her house whilst she is arraigned, then release her) she succumbs to thedespair of pronounced futility & jumps off a building to her death. Her last words before plummeting were – “ how can they just lock you up and take your home? Just lock you up and take your home?” heavy shit! The human cost, away from some idiots ill-gotten-gains, the economic devil demands blood, misery & sacrifice.
“beginning in the early 1990’s, the government mobilized an extensive system of ‘stability maintenance’ against it’s own society. By 2011, spending on public security in China-including paramilitary police, secret police and surveillance-surpassed military spending. The gap widened further the next year.”
“stability above all else”
brilliant reportage & highly recommended for those that found sustenance from Hsiao Hung Pai’s excellent Scattered Sand & Jia Zhangke’s movie A Touch Of Sin.
Author: David Bandurski
Publisher: Melville House Publishing – http://www.mhpbooks.com/
Bandurski’s independent film & documentaries can be researched here – http://www.lanternfilms.com.hk/