On Wednesday, as the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue got underway in Washington D.C., the Chinese character 拆 chai was found spray-painted on the gateposts of the Chinese embassy there. The graffiti has been interpreted as a protest against land seizures and forced demolitions in China, as Vicky Feng explains at South China Morning Post:
When a building in China is scheduled to be demolished, the character “chai” is written in a circle on the building’s wall in red paint.
Many netizens mocked the graffiti, saying it was “amateurish”.
[…] “It’s time to resolve the land seizure issue. Valuable buildings have been demolished and many people have lost homes. It shouldn’t be a problem in a society ruled by law,” commented another.
The Chinese embassy building in the US was designed by the famous Chinese-American architect IM Pei and his two sons. It opened in 2005. [Source]
Some netizens wanted U.S. officials to raise the incident and press China on forced demolition issues during the conference. From Caitlin Dewey at The Washington Post:
So-called land grabs have become a controversial issue in China, particularly over the past 10 years. Under a process similar to eminent domain, local officials can confiscate homes and farmland and resell it to developers, sometimes taking a piece of the profit for themselves. While the owners are supposed to be paid a fair price for any land the government seizes, this doesn’t always happen. In some cases, real estate developers who are close with local officials are able to secure rock-bottom prices for highly desirable land, displacing families and denying them a fair share of their home’s value.
According to one survey by Renmin and Michigan State Universities, as much as 43 percent of Chinese villages have experienced these confiscations. It’s been enough to launch several minor uprisings around the country, including a recent stand-off in the southern province of Guangdong that injured at least eight people.
That could explain the reception the embassy graffiti has had on Chinese social media. The Chinese news site Sino-US.com reports that photos of the embassy gates quickly went viral on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, where many, including artist and activist Ai Weiwei, celebrated the tag. [Source]
See more on forced demolitions via CDT.