Innovations in forced eviction series #3: China

by Rhodri C. Williams

In following housing rights issues, I have been increasingly struck by the frenetic pace of innovation demonstrated by local authorities worldwide in forcing people out of their homes. The first ‘aha’ moment came when I read about the use of sand pumps by workers draining a lake in central Phnom Penh to literally flood the homes of families in the adjoining neighborhood with mud. The next noteworthy development came when Israel – admittedly a country with some tradition in this regard – began notifying Bedouins in the Negev Desert that they would be charged for the periodic demolition of their homes.

However, China has set the bar at a new level and deserves full recognition for their initiative. As reported by the BBC, the Chinese authorities have responded to one village’s failure to comply with an eviction order (their village was flooded by a dam but they moved back to the shore of the resulting lake without permission) by refusing to issue official documents to the residents, effectively rendering them stateless:

“When [children] are born, when they grow up, when they to school, get married, find a job, there is no way to show they exist,” [one resident] says. “When they die we just bury them.”

In recognition of the tireless work of the anonymous bureaucrats who labor day and night to come up with such outside-the-box solutions, I have decided to begin a formal series in TN on innovations in forced evictions. Whenever I read of a new practice that demonstrates unusual initiative, I will ensure that it gets the exposure it deserves. Readers are encouraged to submit nominations anytime.

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7 responses to “Innovations in forced eviction series #3: China

  1. If I recall correctly this is also a common issue in Indonesia – both for informal settlers coming in from rural areas and for people who have experienced eviction. They can’t get their ID card stamped by the local officials, so can’t get access to healthcare, education, voting etc.

  2. Thats interesting – in a sense it is a logical extension to civil and political rights of the more typical denial of economic, social and cultural rights that informal settlement dwellers experience (e.g. from lack of tenure security to denial of utilities). There are also some echoes of the propiska system in the former Soviet Union (which I suppose is similar enough to China’s system for trying to keep rural dwellers out of cities).

  3. What you describe in China has echoes of the situation of millions of state-less Palestinians, evicted from their land, with next generations born and raised in refugee camps. I would nominate that for the (not so new) innovations list.

  4. Yeah, sadly, that is kind of the ‘old school’ variant. At least its arguably harder to get away with that type of stuff now (at least with any arguable legality).

  5. What about Osh City’s award for using its proposed new urban plan as a blueprint for the destruction of traditional houses in the centre during June 2010’s inter-ethnic conflict? Or are they disqualified because the violence was totally ‘random’?

  6. Good point. Using urban plans to lay waste to functioning neighborhoods has a pretty rich tradition, but this may be the first time that an urban plan has been associated with crimes against humanity.

  7. Pingback: Week in links – week 42/2011: land disputes in Bolivia, India, Kyrgyzstan and the UK | TerraNullius

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