Relocation Policy

Beijing Hutong. Will they be demolished?

China’s Relocation Policy has forced the removal of millions of people from their homes. In the past decade, as China’s economic growth has become more viable, cities are changing and turning into sprawling urban centers. A problem rises when municipalities and local governments decide to build a new sky scraper or a new apartment complex while demolishing the old, ancient one story houses. What happens to the people who live there, and what kind of compensation, if any, does the government offer those who are relocated?

The three gorges dam, the Beijing Olympics park and stadium, the Shanghai EXPO area, and the massive project to divert water from the Yangtze River to the drought-prone north are only a few of the major construction projects that China has been undertaking in the past decade. These projects, which are the implementation process of the Relocation Policy, often include the relocation of millions of people away from their homes to new areas, sometimes miles away from where they used to live.

The relocation policy leaves citizens no choice but to move: The municipal or the central government decides to demolish certain areas, and the people who live in those areas are forced to relocate. The process begins when the word “拆” (chāi) - “To be demolished”, is sprayed on the wall of the building that is going to be destroyed. Usually, it is a street or a neighborhood that is meant for destruction. While the purpose of the destruction in most urban areas is to change old and poor areas into new, vibrant shopping centers, stadiums or sky scrapers, the purpose of the destruction in rural areas is often to make room for the construction of a mega-project, such as the case of the Three Gorges Dam.

However, initiatives that involve the relocation of people from natural disaster struck homes have recently been more common: according to the relocation policy, a massive relocation project involving some 2.8 million people, the largest project of its kind ever undertaken by the Chinese government, has started in 2010 in Shaanxi province. The number of people being relocated in Shaanxi province alone is about twice as many as the number of people relocated to make way for China’s Three Gorges Dam. Over the next ten years, Shaanxi will relocate 2.4 million people currently living in its disaster-prone southern region, while another 400,000 will be relocated from its northern part. Shaanxi province is vulnerable to a variety of natural disasters, including landslides and floods: In July 2010, nearly 300 people died or went missing in rain-triggered disasters in the province.

The government claims that the Relocation Policy is necessary to improve the quality of life of people. In the Shaanxi case, for example, the governor, Mr. Zhao Zhengyong was quoted as saying that “This relocation project is for the benefit of the people, and it aims to provide them with safer and more convenient environment in which to live their lives.” One of the cities that has undergone relocation in Shaanxi is Ankang, which was hit by severe flood in July 2010. The flood left 182 people dead or missing and leveled 30,000 homes in the city. This could be the reason why villagers who live nearby the city of Ankang are happy to move: “The huge mountains and deep valleys in our village put our homes in danger when there are heavy rains,” said Mr. Hong Yuanping, a villager from the village of Xinfeng in the Qinling-Bashan region. “Floods can level our houses and destroy our fields at any time. We are eager and excited to move.”

Many are the cases, though, in which people are not excited to leave their homes for a new, unknown location. In Beijing, for example, More than 6,000 households were destroyed, and some 15,000 people were forced to leave their dwellings prior to the Beijing Olympics of 2008. One of the residents, Guo Tiehui, 38, told the Washington Post that residents in his neighborhood received a notice in May 2006 from district officials informing them that the area had to be improved for the Olympics, even though it was not a venue site. Guo’s 2,153-square-foot courtyard home was torn down, but he said the compensation he had received was based on an area of only 725.4 square feet.

“Before, my family lived in several rooms and rented out other rooms,” he said. “Right now, we have to rent an apartment. Not only that we lost our shelter, but we also lost a stable income. How can we buy a new apartment with the same area with such a small amount of compensation? Chinese people do support the Olympics, but we also need reasonable compensation,” Guo said. “The government should not use the Olympics as a big hat to put on our heads. The government always blames outsiders for politicizing the Olympics, but domestically they make the Olympics a political issue.” He continued to say: “We don’t believe that our houses were torn down for the Olympics. The real purpose is moneymaking.”

The government does not see eye to eye with citizens in this issue. “The relocation project went very smoothly, so no one was forced out of their homes at any of the venues,” Zhang Jiaming, vice chair of the Beijing Municipal Construction Committee, told reporters when asked about the Beijing Olympics relocation project. “Families who could prove ownership were compensated, on average, about $87,500 RMB, enough to allow some displaced residents to pass up government-provided affordable housing, to purchase an apartment and to buy a new car”, Zhang said.

In Shaanxi, people’s wishes were taken very seriously, according to government officials. “Shaanxi will respect the wishes of its citizens during the relocation process,” says Mr. Zhao, the governor of Shaanxi province. “The relocation will not be easy to implement, and local governments are striving to ensure that all of its relocated people will be satisfied with their new homes.” The Shaanxi government will support those who are being relocated by offering them vocational training programs and farming equipment. Those being relocated will be settled in small towns with better-developed economies and environments.

Mr. Zhang Baotong, a renowned economist and the director of the Shaanxi Economic Development Research Institute, said that the relocation policy is a new method of poverty reduction, and one that demonstrates the unique strengths of China. ”Such a large-scale relocation program requires a great deal of strength and financial resources, things that China has accumulated in recent years”. He added that compared with other relocation projects, this project is designed to help those being relocated to adapt to their new homes more easily: ”This project is a new path to prosperity in that it offers professional training and new opportunities for employment. It will be an effective method for reducing poverty in China.”

China’s Relocation Policy – Where Do You Stand?

China’s Relocation Policy divides people into two extreme opinion-base camps: The first camp believes that demolishing old buildings is in the best interest of the country and that to clear the old and to make room for the new is a necessary process for economic growth – even if this process entails that families need to be relocated. The second camp believes that families have been living at their homes for generations and that there is absolutely no excuse for demolishing old buildings and forcing those families to relocate.

The middle ground is probably where logic lays – the destruction of old homes, although unfortunate, is necessary for China’s economic growth. It is up to the government to provide a reasonable amount of compensation for those who were affected by the Relocation Policy, in order to insure the successful creation of a new future for China.