So he’s received only 110,000 yuan in cash, about $17,300. Much of the money was used to outfit the apartments for his family members – behind a black metal gate with the words “Puxin New Village” on top – which Zhang said were handed over unfinished, with bare concrete-block walls.
After that series of transactions, the cost to Taihe for the land was low, Zhang said.
Every person interviewed at the “New Village” gave similar accounts, and listed one more problem: The residents said that ownership certificates weren’t issued when they moved in, meaning they can’t legally sell their new homes.
As a result, Zhang and the 400-plus people living in the apartments are marooned. Most moved there in 2004, and now they have almost no money and no practical way of leaving.
Two new construction projects began recently to either side of their homes. In Zhang’s living room during a recent visit, the sounds of drilling and clanging didn’t stop for a moment.
“The government is allowing this to happen,” Zhang said. “It’s allowing the common people to go into deep water and hot fire.”
THESE HOMES AREN’T FOR COMMON PEOPLE
With the tour of her villa drawing to a close last month, Zhu Xinxin stopped at a curiously small room, relative to the vast stretches of the house, filled with trophy cases. As she pushed a button, the middle two sections of a bookcase swiveled open to reveal a hiding space. Zhu tapped the wall and said, “This is bulletproof.”
Why is that necessary?
“The people who are able to buy this villa are people with status,” Zhu said. “These people pay more attention to their personal safety.”
Later, a gold-colored golf cart with a Mercedes-Benz hood ornament whisked a McClatchy reporter to the on-site private club. Along the way, grounds staffers stopped what they were doing to salute when they saw the vehicle humming toward them. The guide in the front seat said it was customary.
At the club, a group of slender women in red and gold silk dresses opened the doors. Tea was poured and Shen Linan, a chipper 46-year-old man in black jeans and a Tommy Hilfiger polo shirt, sat down to talk.
Shen is the assistant to the president of the Taihe Group, a company based in the coastal province of Fujian that has, through a series of subsidiaries, a majority stake in the Beijing Taihe firm that built the site. He rattled off a series of numbers about the size and cost of the project.
Was he worried at all that the villas flew in the face of concerns about economic disparities?
“The houses were not put here to compare with the nearby common people’s income. I think maybe it’s not meaningful to compare, because even if you put these houses by the side of Chang’an Avenue” – the road that cuts through the center of Beijing – “you also cannot compare them with the nearby people’s income,” Shen said. “Because this kind of house is not prepared for the surrounding people, it’s prepared for the most successful people in all of China.”
Later in the interview, Shen said that, “in China now there’s no emperor, but living in such residences, there’s a feeling of being emperors and nobles.”