Quasi-Emperors and Displaced Villagers

McClatchy’s Tom Lasseter traveled to the eastern suburbs of Beijing to visit a luxury housing development with villas ranging from $4.7 million to nearly $50 million, one of which was lavishly upholstered with “gold-plated swan sink faucets that cost $7,865 each”. Lasseter talks closely with locals who inhabited the area back when it was known as Puxin Village, many of whom have been petitioning the local government for years: some Puxin villagers who were unwilling to move were beaten into submission, and many more did not receive the compensation and government benefits they were promised. By contrasting local villagers’ lifestyle and current situation with the extravagance that occupies their old stomping grounds, Lasseter highlights the contention surrounding economic inequality in modern China:

“The villa is like a castle,” said Zhu, a 23-year-old who works full time as the main attendant of the house.

[…]The development, known in English as ThaiHot Mansion and Courtyards by the Canal, would stand out in most places. In China, it’s astounding. The cheapest of the 50 or so properties that are still available is on the market for more than $4.7 million, according to management. Last year, the per capita annual net income of the nation’s rural residents was about $1,100, by official figures. The per capita disposable income for urban dwellers was some $3,430. The billowing crystal chandelier above the living room of Zhu’s villa cost roughly $23,500.

[…]“In ancient times the emperor would sit and drink tea and listen to music,” said Qiao Dan, a 30-year-old man who, speaking in a low hush, recently referred to “the feeling of the royal court” that permeates a villa he tends down the road from Zhu. “People can sit there and imagine that.”

[…]Guo Lu used to know every rise and bend in the land where ThaiHot Mansion now stands. Like many generations of his family before him, the 66-year-old farmer was born and raised in what was once Puxin Village. He owned three houses and grew corn, wheat and vegetables. Then, in 2002, the Beijing Taihe Real Estate Development Co. received the government’s nod to buy and develop the land. Guo didn’t want to move. In April 2003, a group of men with clubs stormed his home, Guo said. After the assault, his left leg was permanently crippled. He agreed to sign the contract and relocated the next year. […]

[…]“They have the luxury villas there,” Guo Yongshun said. “And we are living in buildings that are like slums.”

Click through for the entire article, which describes in detail the politics behind the development, local struggles for redress, and the broader trend of economic inequality in China. Also see prior CDT coverage of the massive gulf between rich and poor in the PRC.

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