BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s rules on the forced demolition of homes are under attack after a Beijing man set fire to himself to protest against confiscation of his family’s home, while legal experts urged reforms to better protect residents.
With China’s feverish real estate market stoking developers’ appetite for land, the guidelines allowing local governments to confiscate homes and claim land have drawn both protests and demands for change, which could eventually slow demolitions.
In the latest incident to grab national attention, a man on the outskirts of Beijing doused himself with petrol and set himself on fire on Monday when officials were pressing his family to give up their home, newspapers said on Thursday.
The man, Xi Xinzhu, suffered burns to 10 percent of his body, and was in hospital, officials told the official People’s Daily.
“We tried everything to raise legal questions about this demolition through normal channels, but nobody would do anything, although there are plainly problems,” Xi’s brother, Xi Xinqiang, told Reuters by telephone.
Xi Xinzhu was hurt last month in a confrontation with thugs seeking to push out the family, his brother said.
“He did this out of helplessness and despair, because the rules are just an excuse to grab land,” said Xi Xinqiang.
The protest followed a series of others in a country where land is owned or effectively controlled by the state, and residents can lease usage rights.
Residents facing removal have complained that the amount of compensation offered is far below the real value of their homes.
They complain officials collude with developers to demand land in the name of public needs, such as roads, and then turn it over to commercial investors who can reap big profits.
Standoffs can turn violent, pitting residents against police and hired thugs. Protests over home and farmland confiscation are one of the nagging threats to social stability facing the ruling Communist Party.
Last month, a Shanghai woman threw petrol bombs at government forklifts working on an expansion of the Hongqiao airport. In the southwestern city of Chengdu, a woman set fire to herself in front of police and firefighters.
In another southwest city, Guiyang, 13 residents were kidnapped recently by thugs hired by a local real estate developer who then demolished their homes, a Chinese newspaper reported.
In a sign that the government may be seeking to ease growing public rancor, law-drafting officials on Wednesday met nine law professors who have called the current home requisition rules illegitimate and urged major reforms.
The current rules, they said, failed to comply with the state constitution and property law, which call for citizens to receive fair compensation for property taken by the government.
One of the professors, Wang Xixin of Peking University, said any reforms needed to ensure that governments could not work with developers illicitly to undermine residents’ interests.
“To avoid this alliance of interests, the key is making a distinction between public interests and commercial development,” Wang told the website of the People’s Daily (www.people.com.cn).
On Wednesday, another group of legal activists also urged the government to give stronger rights to residents whose homes are threatened with demolition.
Xu Zhiyong, the head of the Open Constitution Initiative, or Gongmeng, which issued the law reform proposal, said displaced residents find it difficult to afford decent housing with the levels of compensation usually offered.
“Compensation should reflect market values,” Xu told Reuters. “Otherwise, discontent over demolitions will not die down.”