As Shanghai authorities prepare for the World Expo, scheduled to begin on May 1 this year, the five-year ordeal of Hu Yan (胡燕) and her family – whose ancestral home was demolished without the family’s consent – illustrates the strong-arm tactics of the authorities when it comes to official requisition of residential land for the World Expo. During the past five years, Hu and her husband Jiang Bin (姜斌) were the objects of official coercion, threats, and detention as they tried to petition their case to the authorities.
Hu Yan traveled to New York from Shanghai in February this year, leaving behind her family, including her infant daughter, so that she can bring her story to the attention of the international media.
Hu Yan told Human Rights in China (HRIC) that in 2004, she received notification that the small ancestral family home where she, her husband Jiang Bin, and her mother Chen Jufang (陈菊芳) were residing fell within the area selected for the site of the Shanghai 2010 World Expo and would be requisitioned. They were among the some 28,000 people who would eventually be relocated to make way for the World Expo. Situated at 13 West Chenjiazhai, Yaohua Road, Pudong New District, Shanghai, the house measured at 14 square meters – about 10 feet by 15 feet.
The World Expo Relocation Policy for the Pudong New District provides for compensation to those who have ownership of or the “right to use” the property, or have their hukou registered at the location.
Hu and her mother had their hukou registration at the location, but Hu’s husband and father did not. According to Hu, her father has been living and working in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region since he responded to the government’s call to help develop the region decades earlier, but plans to retire soon and come to live with his family in Shanghai. Hu and her mother feel that the family is entitled to compensation for four people, not two.
The two sides were unable to reach an agreement. On December 29, 2005, the Pudong New District authorities forcibly demolished the home of Hu Yan’s family when no one was present.
During the negotiation that lasted from mid to late 2005, the authorities put great pressure on Hu Yan and her mother to sign an agreement for demolition and relocation as soon as possible. Officials at the Pudong New District Gongli Hospital – Hu Yan’s work unit – including the director and the party committee secretary, threatened her with dismissal if she didn’t sign the agreement. The head of the workers’ union told her, “There is no rule of law to speak of in our country; the organization decides everything.” The hospital kept up the pressure in the two years that followed the demolition: Hu was denied bonuses and promotion. Under strain, Hu Yan even attempted suicide.
Hu Yan’s husband, Jiang Bin, began petitioning in August 2005. On October 15, 2007, Jiang Bin went to Beijing to petition but was taken back to Shanghai by the authorities and criminally detained on suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order.” He was held along with death row inmates in a detention center and was beaten and tormented. He was released because the government did not have sufficient evidence to bring formal charges. During subsequent sensitive periods, such as June Fourth or the annual sessions of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Jiang was taken away by authorities to “arrange a consultation,” but was locked instead inside a “black jail,” under 24-hour surveillance and effective house arrest, along with the rest of his family, including Hu Yan.
HRIC urges the Chinese authorities to peacefully address petitions and grievances concerning housing and land rights without resorting to violence or coercion, and to respect the terms of the UN Human Rights Council resolution on the Right to Adequate Housing aimed at insuring the rights of those affected by mega-events such as the Shanghai World Expo. Only when the right to adequate housing is upheld can the World Expo’s theme of “Better City, Better Life” be realized for everyone.