Local Official to Nailhouse Owner: “Whose Sky Are You Living Under?”

The following story was reported by the Southern Weekend this March, translated by CDT:

According to the Qianlong network, an elementary school teacher in Ninghe county, Tianjin, had her classes suspended after refusing to relocate from her building to make way for a development project. When the Party Committee Secretary from the County Education Bureau was working [to convince her to move], he said: “In China, you might say you won’t move, but you certainly will be moved. This is all I have to say (to you). This is precisely why we are so powerful in the world.”

Refusing to sign her name

In Lutai Village, Ninghe County, Tianjin, two backhoes ceaselessly brandish their iron claws. Amidst the piles of debris, the Bank of China business and residence buildings (hereafter referred to simply as the “Bank of China buildings”) look like a remote island. Across the street, a luxury tower, though still incomplete, towers up steeply. At the beginning of March, residents of the Bank of China buildings hurriedly packed up and moved. The government had given them a deadline of March 27, saying that if they had not moved by the deadline, the demolition would proceed anyway.

The Bank of China buildings are situated on the busiest commercial street in Lutai Village. On March 12, a reporter from Liaowang Eastern Weekly learned from Tianyida Realty in Lutai that homes in this area had a value of 6,000-7,000 yuan per square meter, with some even reaching a price of around 8,000 yuan per sq. m.

Zhang Xiling, an English teacher at Shizhuang Central Elementary School in Dongjituo Village, Ninghe County, Tianjin saw that she would have to become a “nailhouse owner” (dingzihu 釘子戶; i.e., a homeowner who refuses to relocate to make way for a development project). She had long prepared herself for such an event.

Towards the end of October, 2009, this ordinary elementary school teacher met with her most senior supervisor for the first time: the Director of the Ninghe County Education Bureau, Yu Zhihuai. The purpose of his visit was obvious: urge her to relocate and make way for demolition. From then on, Zhang Xiling met with a series of ever more important officials, including Zhang Yangxia, Assistant County Director; Song Lianqi, Director of the County Land Management Center; and Liu Guangbao Party Secretary of the County Education Bureau. These officials talked with Zhang Xiling more than 20 times. After each discussion, Zhang became more steadfast in spirit. She ran down to the village and purchased a recording device, secretly recording each of the conversations. And, starting from the day she was informed of the required relocation, she began to keep a daily diary.

By March 16, 2010, Zhang Xiling still had not yet signed her name to the relocation agreement.

The Ninghe County Land Management Center had proposed a compensation scheme. The standard for monetary compensation was set at 4,900 yuan per sq. m. Beyond this, relocated households could purchase at an area ratio of 1 to 1.1 if they moved back into the building upon completion. In the 30-month period during construction, the government would give each household 800 yuan per month in temporary supplemental relocation funds.

After the compensation scheme was made public, it immediately garnered unanimous criticism from the households facing relocation. Towards the beginning of November, 2009, they joined together and sent a letter to the leaders of Ninghe County, articulating the following:
1) The ratio for moving back into the completed building could be no less than 1:1.8, since residents relocated from old buildings in a small area facing immediately from the south had received a ratio of 1:1.5.
2) The renovation fee could not be less than 100,000 yuan. In their letter, they stated that this rate was based on the relocation and construction plans for the Donggu and Xigu residential complexes in Tanggu District. It would require an additional 500 yuan per square meter [in addition to the 4,500 yuan per sq. m. already promised].
3) In exchange for eliminating the 800 yuan monthly relocation payment, they hoped that the government would be able to rent for them housing of comparable conditions in the nearby Guangming District or Xingfu minor district.

Song Lianqi, Director of the Ninghe County Land Management Center, told the reporter that for this demolition and relocation project the government had already fulfilled its rightful obligations: “A ratio of 1:1.1 for moving back into the completed building completely conforms to national standards. Moreover, we have to give them a renovation fee. These measures are already very generous.”

Recording the statements of officials

In a short ten-day span from October 20 to October 30, 2009, four people charged with getting Zhang Xiling out of her home paid her visits. These included Yu Zhihuai, Director of the Ninghe County Education Bureau; Zheng Endong, Head Principle in Dongjituo Village; Li Zhenli, Principle of Shizhuang Central Elementary School; and Liu Guangbao, Party Secretary of the County Education Bureau.

Zhang Xiling gave one tape to the reporter, a tape with a recording of Head Principle of Dongjituo Village Zheng Endong telling her that November 12 would be the “ridge that divided the waters.” If she signed her name prior to this date, the county would offer some favorable measures.

In this conversation, recorded on the tape, Zheng Endong earnestly chided Zhang Xiling: “Secretary Song said this, so long as we are not unlawful, if the Education Bureau take some actions, the county would be supportive. Many central government directives that come down to the provincial and city levels are this way. Being here this is so much more the case; right now the district and county leaders are the high rulers.” Seeing that Zhang Xiling was not moved by the statement, Zheng Endong became a bit agitated: “How can you stand up to the county government? Whose sky are you living under? You think it’s your sky? It’s their sky!” On March 16, the reporter presented this statement to Zheng Endong for confirmation. He flatly denied saying this: “That woman made this up. It’s all made up. That never happened!”

After pressuring Zhang Xiling a few times, Director of the Ninghe County Education Department Yu Zhihuai did not reappear for a long time. He was replaced by Liu Guangbao, Party Secretary of the County Education Bureau.

Towards the end of November, 2009, Liu Guangbao visited Zhang Xiling’s home four times. The conversations they had comprise a recording 2 hours and 45 minutes long. “In England, if you say you will not move, nobody will dare to move you. In China, if you say you will not move, you certainly will be moved. This is all I have to say (to you). This is precisely why we are so powerful in the world!” In this same conversation, Liu Guangbao lectured Zhang Xining: “All citizens of Ninghe County must carry out the decisions, or policies, we might say, that are set forth by the county-level Party and government. From this perspective of policy implementation, you are charged with carrying out policies in the same way that the Education Bureau must also carry out policies.”

After one more conversation, Liu Guangbao raised the example of Tang Fuzhen. “Why are you doing this? Do you need a pipe bomb? How about a good dousing with gasoline? You are a fool! With a good dousing of gasoline, who would take care of your son? Do you think Secretary Song would really lose his job over that? Or that County Director Li would lose his job? If you meet the gas, your son won’t have a mother anymore. Have you thought about that? All around the country everything is like this. Which official has trouble for things like this? If there was trouble, they may just simply be transferred somewhere else.”

When Liu Guangbao received the reporter for an interview, he confirmed that he had compared England with China, but according to him he did not say it that way: “I think that what I meant to say was that with the private property of people in other countries, if they do not agree [with a given plan], the state is unable to move them. In our country, under the premises of the regulations in our counties and cities, in these sorts of affairs, you must always do what is required. Of course, you can talk about specific conditions.”

As for some of the more extreme statements, Liu Guangbao clearly denied that they were his: “I did speak of self-immolation, but should I not urge one of my teachers in this manner? I was urging her to value life, to love life.”

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