Complication for living space in China - : Latest Jobs In Pakistan 2022

Thursday 22 July 2021

Complication for living space in China

 China’s cities are growing at a breathtaking pace. Mega-metropolises with glittering facades for the ultra-rich. This is what the major cities really want. The way they are thinking is to have the high end. They call them the high-end population. But beyond the shiny high-rises, the streets are narrow, loud and dirty. There is no regulation or law in China that protects tenants’ rights. Homeowners are expropriated, forced to yield to the construction boom. Building space is in high demand. My house is gone. Torn down. Everything's gone. China's struggle for living space. Li Qizhong is ready to defend his home to the last. But its sprawling urban agglomerations do.  Megacities: modern, glamorous and full of superlatives. In 1980, 20% of China’s population lived in cities. Today that figure has risen to 60% - over 800 million people. No country in the world has as many large cities with over one million inhabitants; China has more than 100. German architect Erk Schaffarczyk moved to China as its boom was well underway. Of course everyone thinks you can find your fortune in the biggest cities — Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen - that’s where the big money is. But most of the former rural residents looking for work can't afford to do so. Millions of them are constantly on the move - as migrant workers. I don’t know the exact number — but 200 or 300 million people, maybe more, are constantly wandering from one place to another to make money because they can't at home. There they could only work in the fields, and even that isn't so easy anymore, because so much land is so contaminated that it's become completely infertile. The rural exodus has led to rapidly increasing rents in cities. In 2017, an apartment in Beijing cost about 620 euros in rent, whereas the average salary of a Beijing official was around 1,400 euros, barely twice the rent. By comparison: A migrant worker earned around 455 euros a month in 2017, making a city apartment way beyond his means. Author David Bandurski has lived in Hong Kong for 14 years. He has witnessed the social upheaval across China from up close. They can’t afford these new apartments that are built. These very rapidly, by the nineties, were becoming really expensive. And you needed to have a proper job, a proper work permit, etc., to even be able to buy property. So they were rural people living and working in the city. And it was natural for them to look for spaces that accepted them. This is where migrant workers and low-income workers can afford to live: in China’s so-called urban villages. Places that mostly remain hidden from tourists' curious gaze. And that’s a village, just a tight urban space, almost like a large city block, just packed with migrants. At the heart of the megacity Shenzhen, we managed to film one of these poor neighborhoods. Here people live in cramped quarters under the most difficult conditions. Filming is not officially allowed — we weren't granted permission to capture the dark side of China’s economic boom. If you are renting a room in a very central village it might be more than for one in the outskirts, but you could find a room, maybe a share, and you pay 200, 300 maybe 500 renminbi per month: 40 or 50 euros or something like that. 50 euros for a place to sleep in a dorm compared to 620 for an entire apartment. We want to learn more about the living conditions for the residents here. Ms. Li shows us her apartment. She and her husband and daughter share 7m². At least they have a window; that's not always the case. Life in the city is expensive. The room costs 100 euros per month. A home outside the urban village is out of the question. Other residents also show us their spaces. We stop filming. China is a surveillance state, but the police can't be everywhere. But in these poor areas, we stand out as foreigners all the more. Professor for Architecture Juan Du works at Hong Kong University. She specializes in large metropolitan areas - and the urban villages. There are urban villages in every single city in China. Some has hundreds, some have thousands, some have a handful. For decades, the Chinese government has considered urban villages to be eyesores that hinder progress and modernization. They were to vanish from the cityscape... and make room for the new, modern way of living. And the residents: they hardly put up any resistance. They know that there is little point in standing up to the government, so they pack up what little they own and move on. Most of the reasons why a government would want to be part of a demolition process to demolish an urban village is because either the government or developer deems that there is much better or more valuable use for that land.

Municipal governments say the inhabitants of the urban villages should vacate their homes voluntarily and not stand in the way of potential investors. Severance payments often make it easier to let go. But those who still refuse to leave are put under massive pressure. We learned what that meant in Guangzhou in 2012. Amidst a rubble field, marking a former urban village, we met Li Jie. She had been arrested for not abandoning her home. He told me to write a confession. I told him: I couldn’t write. Then a fellow prisoner wrote something for me. This, here. She told me it was my official objection to the demolition of the house. I was very frightened. I was confused. I just wanted to get out. Even death would have been better. The police were so cruel. They had these stun guns. I was terrified. That’s why I just signed. I signed and they let me go. Writer and researcher David Bandurski knows many cases like Li Jie’s. He was in Guangzhou himself in 2012. And it varies from village to village, but many people are in this place. They have nowhere to go, there's no future for them, no pensions, no place to live, their community is gone, and they feel just desperate. With her forced signature, Li Jie, who can neither read nor write, formally agreed to the demolition of her home. She received no compensation, and her signature waived any later claim to it. So here I am. I stay with one person one day, with someone else the next. What can I do? My house is gone. Torn down. Everything is gone. Now I can only hang around here. What else is there to do? It’s as if they wanted me dead... The day after, Li Jie jumped off the roof of a building and killed herself. If you've lived in the same place for sometimes more than six generations, then it’s hard to comprehend when one day someone shows up and says it's over and you have to leave. Or you are no longer welcome, that you have to make way for something else, a highway or an Olympic stadium or just another high-rise. These developments were particularly extreme in Shenzhen. In 1980, paramount leader Deng Xiaoping proclaimed one of China’s first special economic zones in what was then a small town of just under 59,000 inhabitants. Between 1980 and 2010, according to a UN report, Shenzhen was the fastest growing city in human history. The city devoured the neighboring farmland and engulfed entire villages. The urban villages within the city are also expected to make way for lucrative new buildings. A law was passed from the central government. All village land inside a certain vicinity now became nationally owned. Meaning: the land is no longer owned by the villagers, it’s owned by the government. So this is done by a law, by national law. So you cannot say it’s illegal. You can say it’s the legality or the correctness of the law we can argue, but it’s a national law. So therefore the villagers found themselves overnight not owning the land. This government decree in the 1990s stated that agricultural land belonged to the state. The farmers tilling the land had no other option than to give into the state's wishes — to turn land into money. They transfer the land from collective land, which is rural land and belongs to the collective of the community and they transfer it into basically state-owned land — which means it can be developed. And then they basically auction off the land to private developers or state-linked — often state-owned — developers: big companies that then build apartments and infrastructure and this kind of thing. In the end, all the farmers were left with were their houses in the village center. Under Chinese law, these belong to the collective of all villagers and as such, cannot be expropriated as easily. The villagers living in these local villages in the city: the urban villagers recognized a huge economic opportunity. I will take my one or two story apartment on my plot of collective land and I will build it to seven or eight stories — as much real estate as I can get — and I rent it to migrant families or individual migrants coming in. They build their houses as cheaply and efficiently as possible — as high as the foundations would carry. It's still common practice today. And there is even a word for it in China. The word for farming is: ‘chong di’ — ‘to farm the land’. And they talk about ‘chong fa’: ‘to farm a home or to farm a house.’ The new landlords have to build up this haphazard living space quickly to be able to rent it out as soon as possible. The electrical grid is basically all jerry-rigged. You have wires just crossing each other. They look like spiderwebs in this almost cave-like environment. There may be 3 meters between the buildings as a kind of loose regulation. They can’t be too close together. 

You need some access for fire vehicles if you need them. And on the second level they build in. Because they want to maximize the space: the floor space to rent. More square meters means more income. So you get this kind of compression of the space — until when you are on the bottom level and you look up there is just a crack of sunlight. And they call that ‘xian tien’ or ‘line of sky’ in Chinese. It’s almost like seeing light under a closed door. It’s just a little bit. And so imagine that. And you have open sewers. So I think a lot of people walking into the space would say: yeah, this is unacceptable for urban living. We are in the urban village of Baishizhou. It's loud and stifling. The humid air condenses on the sides of the buildings. The houses are overcrowded, and the narrow, dark alleys wreak of old food, mold and urine. Many of the buildings don’t have working toilets. Running water or a washing machine are luxuries hardly anyone here can afford. The urban villages are scattered throughout the inner-city areas of China's major cities. Their inhabitants paid the price for their country's boom — and they are reminded of that every day. Even by those who are less unfortunate. In China, even in a city like Shenzhen, the prevalent public image is that they are all dirty, they are all unsanitary, they are all bad. That is the public image. The low-wage workers who live here are major contributors to the cities’ economic flourishing. They want to build profitable apartment buildings there, and they want to sell the land for a lot of money to developers. By the summer of 2019, average property prices in Shenzhen had skyrocketed compared to 10 years earlier. In Beijing they also rose sharply. Land for construction is becoming increasingly scarce, and anyone who snaps it up cheap can expect a hefty profit. This creates a situation where the city is determined to get the land of the villagers and they don’t want to pay a fair price for that land. They want it cheap, so they can sell it at a profit to developers.  Police, city administrations and building contractors form a powerful alliance — something the public shouldn't be aware of. What that means is that the village collective is, in some cases, a hand full of elderly men who hold a lot of negotiating power. So most of the time, when there are negotiations between a developer or the government about the fate of certain villages, they are not going to all the villagers. They going to see the representatives of the village — which is usually the village elders, the village collective. The villagers are at the mercy of their representatives’ negotiating skills — and they do not always act in the best interest of the community. Again and again negotiations take place completely behind the backs of the homeowners concerned. There have been examples where the villagers had no idea that the head of the village collective company has signed an agreement with a developer to sell their village. And they took the money and left China. In recent years, hundreds of thousands have been forced out of their homes in urban villages. Only few dare to take a stand. One of them is Li Qizhong in Guangzhou. He's pitted against the city administration and a powerful contractor. His family has lived in the urban village of Yangji for generations. Once it was a farming village with 3,000 inhabitants. Now it has become home to over 70,000 migrant workers in the middle of the financial district of Guangzhou. Why are they tearing it down so early — at 6 a.m.? Because they want to do it in secret. We first met Li, his wife and two children in 2012. Li Qizhong’s family has owned the house and the surrounding plot of land for generations. He has documents to prove it. That would be 1943. In the eighth month of the moon. 70 years ago. 70 years! Older than the Communist Party. Older than the People’s Republic of China. This document is not just a title deed: it also shows that Li is officially a rural citizen with fewer rights in the city. China has a system of what’s called household registration, where the people are actually registered to their either urban or rural area — usually of birth. The system dates to the 1950s. “Rural” meant they were entitled to a plot of land for subsistence farming. “Urban” guaranteed a workplace, subsidized housing, access to education and healthcare, and a pension. Legally speaking, Li Qizhong is a rural resident.  But until you purchase a property in the city, you cannot get your local registration card: what’s called the Hukou. But until you purchase a property in the city, you cannot get your local registration card: what’s called the Hukou. You just do not have local registration, which means it’s almost impossible to get into local schools, your kid will not have a school, and you won’t have access to healthcare. Fair compensation for the house would help ease the family’s desperate financial situation: they could stay in the city, buy an apartment, register, and find work. This is what Li Qizhong wants. But neither the city administration nor the building contractor will hear anything of it. But he won't back down. That night the utility lines to his house are cut off. They cut the power. Here come the police. But that won't stop them. No-one expects any help from the police. The family is forced to improvise. Water is only available on the edge of what has become a desert of rubble. A generator supplies the family with electricity. Li is always on guard and has not left the house for months. He has heard of cases where construction workers have been quick to deal with residents like him, and that scares him. But he wants to hold out until the end, for himself and for his family. And this is why you have this whole phenomenon of what we call ‘nail houses’ or in Chinese: ‘Dingzi hu.’ Individual landowners, property owners - they call them ‘owners’ ... Villagers who decide they are going to stay in their property — that they going to hold out and wait for proper compensation by going head-to-head with the local property company and city leaders. And they stay there. They call them ‘nail houses’ because they are like nails that can’t be pulled out. There are hundreds of nail houses in China, some of which have made the front pages of international newspapers. Li Qizhong knows this and is gearing up as if for battle. You can throw that out the window. It has a brick as an anchor. Then I can light the fuse and run away. Li Qizhong has prepared enough homemade explosives to bring it all down. If anyone gets in, they won’t make it out alive. The entrance stairs. That one there ... is for the rooms on the ground floor. Everything is labeled. If you are going to do it, you have to do it right. So the individual nail-houser — who basically arms his six-storey building as an explosive device ready to go off as soon as his home is invaded — is only the mirror image of the violent city government that is in cahoots with the property developer that will cut your electrical lines and beat up your relatives and harass your kids on the way to school. The tactics aren’t very different on either side. It’s the law of the jungle. Li Qizhong’s resistance has put the construction work months behind schedule. Tension is rising at the building site. The bosses pass their frustration on to their employees: If nothing gets built, no one gets paid. The first workers lose their patience and attack a former neighbor. Li Qizhong, stuck in his own home, can't come to her aid. The police arrive, but don’t intervene. You police are all crooks! Nothing but small-time crooks. The big crooks are the corrupt officials. You just represent the government. You only say whatever the government tells you to. I tell the truth. Go ahead and write me up. Charge me with whatever you want. I’ve already been in court. Your job is to defend the law, but you don't. Li Qizhong denies this and speaks of corrupt officials embezzling funds. Sure, the government has paid out money, he says, but it doesn’t care who gets it. There are lots of examples of corruption in the area, including: the government would provide a certain amount per month — a certain number of yen per person, per resident of the village, per month, for a period of three years, for example, from loss of livelihood — as they took farmland. Because this was the source of livelihood. And I had documents of the time that were provided to me, that would show that basically the head of the village had over-reported the number of villagers eligible. So you look at the roster of the population of the village and what was reported to city authorities — with all the stamps, from the county level, from this office, from that, from everyone, who were probably involved, to over-report the amount of compensation that was due. But where did the compensation go? For years, corruption has been one of China's most serious problems, and the government is determined to tackle it.

If you speak to the majority of people in the city like Shenzhen, they would say the villagers have hit the lottery — that most of the villagers in exchange for their land or their building did receive an enormous amount of money Li Qizhong swears he has yet to see a single yuan. His wife and two children have moved into a small one-room apartment in another urban village that’s still standing. From now on, Li Qizhong is on his own. He's not sure if he will ever see his family again. The only thing he is certain of is that the construction workers will continue to pressure him, if need be, with force. It’s a huge problem. Because they learn from the system that violence is what solves the problem. Each night we watch as the construction companies send out another gang of hooligans. As soon as the thugs disappear, the police surface. As long as the thugs stay, the police never show up. It's been over 60 weeks, and Li Qizhong is completely worn out. Sleep is out of the question. The risk is too great that he will miss an attack and will not be able to defend himself. They smash windows, bang on the doors. It's constant chaos. They put us nail-house residents under such enormous pressure. It’s past midnight now, I’d guess: 4 in the morning. They will probably strike again at around 5 o’clock. He feels condemned to sit and wait. For months he's defended his home like a fortress. Hardly any daylight gets in. In his previous life, Li was a simple worker. Now he's facing down a huge enemy in a war of attrition. Stability is used as a justification for going after these resisting villagers. They are seen as dangerous. But the upshot of this kind of conflict is: a real instability. The fact that they can’t protect the rights of these villagers in a systematic and fair way. Li Qizhong’s situation became desperate in 2013, after more than a year of conflict. One morning, a demolition company arrived with heavy equipment. Li used the camera we gave him to document what was happening to the residents of the nail house. We retreat to safety. The construction workers force their way into the nail houses intent on beating Li Qizhong and his last remaining neighbors out of the house. Technically that's against the law, so they try to do it as quickly and quietly as possible. But the men fight back and detonate their self-made explosives. They’re loud and anything but subtle. The noise caused by the explosive devices and Li’s loud cries make the thugs call off their attack. Li Qizhong’s stubborn battle might be an exception to the rule, but he's not the only one. The demonstrators often wear the red hats that signify membership in the ruling Communist Party. Who dares to use violence against them? Their protest attracts attention — both abroad and in China itself. This collective community was basically turning to collective action, and not even just that: village after village, but village to village ... villages linking with other villages that were facing similar problems ... sharing information about how to protest. What are the effective ways? What are the legal ways — in terms of protest or petitioning; how does it work, what’s effective. Ultimately, Li Qizhong succeeded. In his case, his loud protest led to an amicable settlement. He won't say how much. But his struggle left behind scars. To this day Li lives in constant fear of revenge. What is the knife for? What if they come after me? What would I do without it? I can’t defend myself unarmed. Yes, but those knives... ... I’m ready if they attack me.

You will pay for it! Do you think...? Find it! Without a knife, there is no chance! Hu Jintao was president of the People's Republic of China for 10 years. And the situation has improved for homeowners from the slums. There are now rules for compensation, but they vary widely from one region to the next. We have no way of knowing to what extent they are complied with. The sums being paid are insanely high. They mostly buy living space — not just here, but elsewhere in other regions. The number of conflicts over the demolition of urban villages has decreased. But that doesn't mean circumstances have improved for the roughly 300 million low-income and migrant workers. The razing of entire slum neighborhoods has left countless homeless. The migrant workers who suffer — if you want to see it that way — under these poor conditions are in another urban village. Further out of the city. They have to commute further for their job at the supermarket, which this handful of rich, who now live there, shop in. It’s a real kind of vicious cycle. Yet China’s real estate boom continues. In 2017, a typical apartment in Shenzhen cost 41x the average annual salary. By comparison: in the German city of Munich, it cost 13 years’ salary. As a result, 22% — nearly a quarter — of apartments in China are empty. Because nobody is willing or able to pay the rent — or because the owners hope the price will increase further. 50 million vacant apartments. And there’s no end in sight. Now Beijing is set to merge with Huairou, Tianjin and parts of Hebei, so it will form a huge triangle. And the population is expected to grow to an estimated 60-70 million. I don’t know if that will happen, but if the past 10-11 years are any guide, it’s entirely possible. By 2030, experts estimate that 80% of the population will live in cities. And none of this would have been possible without low-wage workers.

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