At the beautifully sculpted grounds of ThaiHot Mansion, where bamboo groves are kept lush and the lawns cut short just 20 miles from the concrete of downtown Beijing, those statistics seem remote and of little consequence.
“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.”
VILLAGERS’ LIVES UPENDED
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. Guo now carries a green booklet and certificate issued by the government in 2009 that certify he has a disabled limb.
According to the agreement between Taihe and local officials, a copy of which was reviewed by McClatchy, the 430 villagers whose property was sold were supposed to receive new housing – and to have their residential status transferred from rural to nonrural. It’s a crucial distinction, with implications that stretch from employment opportunities to government benefits. That never happened.
The local government also agreed, in writing, to find jobs for 224 of those people, almost all of whom had been farmers before their land was taken; again, a condition that wasn’t met.
Both those stipulations were present in an approval of the deal issued by Beijing’s city government, a 2002 document bearing officials stamps that McClatchy also saw. Villagers say they didn’t know they were entitled to the help until a document surfaced during a lawsuit in 2007, five years after the land deal.
“By the time the town told us (about the pact with Taihe), the issue of the land had already been decided . . . the village didn’t know what was happening,” said Zhang Xiucheng, 59, who was the head of Puxin’s village committee during the demolition and served on the local body from 1975 to 2007. The agreement between Puxin Village and Taihe bore Zhang’s signature, a fact he came to regret
“There was a transaction involving power and money, but we did not know what happened,” head said.
Like the rest of the villagers, Zhang said he didn’t receive the money he was owed for his house and, in his case, a small roadside shop. Instead, the residents were told how much it would cost them to move into the new apartments. That amount was then deducted from the total, according to Zhang and other former Puxin residents.
For instance, Zhang was owed about 350,000 yuan, about $55,000 at today’s rate, for his home and another 100,000 yuan for the loss of his business, about $15,725, he said. But from that 450,000 yuan, some 340,000 was deducted for the units he reserved, Zhang said.