Trampled in a Land Rush, Chinese Push Back

The New York Times reports on efforts by homeowners to stop the forced demolition of their property by developers:

China is not a good setting for a Frank Capra tale, but people do have influence over their autocratic masters. Top officials are worried that the property rush — which has led to soaring prices for urban real estate and low prices for old homes and farmland seized for — is enriching local governments and well-connected developers at the expense of ordinary people and social stability.

Protests like those in Laogucheng — including self-immolations and deadly standoffs — have forced officials to at least consider measures to make it harder to seize property and turn it over to developers without fully compensating those who live on it or use it. Effective confiscation of land nominally owned by the state, but farmed or lived on by the poor, has been a major source of unrest for the past two decades.

In a provisional move, state media revealed this week, China’s cabinet issued an “emergency notice” in recent days demanding that local governments hold officials accountable for “vicious incidents” and, by the end of June, publicize “reasonable” standards of compensation.

But the question is whether that and the newly proposed regulations will be tough enough, or come soon enough, to make much of a difference. For those living in Laogucheng, the chances of a happy ending still seem remote.

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