Housing compensation activist stays unbowed
Qi Yueying, 49, is digging in her heels amid a stand-off with municipal authorities over the demolition of a historic family farmhouse that lies just beyond the southeastern part of Beijing's Second Ring Road. Police officers and security guards maintain a constant presence outside her home. Whenever she wants to run an errand, she must first call the local police station to get permission to leave her house. Qi refuses to accept the compensation offered for the farmhouse, saying it's a tenth of its value. She says the government is ignoring its own regulations, because she has studied land and compensation policy for seven years. Despite being detained three times, Qi remains defiant.
Tell me about yourself.
I left a rural town in Shijiazhuang in Hebei after divorcing my first husband, and arrived in Beijing with my two children in 1990. I sell clothes for a living, and that's how I met my current husband. His father owns a large, old farmhouse near the Guangming Bridge just beyond the southeastern part of Beijing's Second Ring Road. There were about 5,400 households in the area before it was marked for a government-backed demolition in December 2004. But the work initially made little progress because people were unhappy about the compensation offered.
What was the offer?
We were offered about 4,500 yuan per square metre, which grossly undervalued our property. And even worse, demolition authorities in Chaoyang district refused to compensate us for more than 800 square metres of private land our family owns, or for about 40 units we built before the 1980s that added to the original seven units. A survey firm hired by district officials in 2010 found we were entitled to compensation for 109 square metres, or about 1.22 million yuan (HK$1.49 million). My husband, my children and I have somewhere else we can go, but my two brothers-in-law and their families don't because the compensation is barely enough to buy a one-bedroom home at current market prices.
You actually own the land?
Yes. We have a photocopy of a land certificate the government issued in 1951 that states we own the original seven units on a plot of land measuring 830 square metres. The original certificate was handed over to the government during the Cultural Revolution, but we have never been stripped of ownership of the land. Even the government surveyor's report in 2010 acknowledged we own more than 500 square metres of land, though I do not know how they came up with that figure. It is a misconception that homeowners on the mainland can't own the land on which their homes are built. So why aren't we being offered compensation for the land? Why were we offered only 4,500 yuan per square metre for a home that could fetch between 40,000 yuan and 50,000 yuan a square metre on the market?
What actions did you take?
We didn't do much before 2009 because we believed that the district government wouldn't dare proceed with the forced demolition. The compensation package was too outrageous and such a gross violation of the policies of the central and municipal governments on forced demolition and compensation.
What prompted you to be active in helping your family and others?
At the time, my family was living in another part of Beijing. But in 2009, we moved to the farmhouse, where I noticed the injustice my neighbours were suffering. Government-hired thugs were demolishing their homes. They hauled one of my elderly neighbours out of her home so they could tear it down. She had only just returned from a major surgery. An elderly man was handcuffed and led away from his home by police, who alleged he was disrupting public order. He was thrown into a detention centre for 15 days. You feel so heartbroken when you see a neighbour forced out and another led away by police, right before their homes are torn down. It gets to the point where you can't just sit idly by and do nothing. I have studied government policies and the laws regarding home demolitions for the past seven years. That has helped me organise petitions to present to both district and municipal governments. I took the district government's housing agency to court, seeking greater disclosure of demolition records.
Were you afraid?
Of course! I've been thrown into detention three times - twice last year - for helping neighbours in their plight. I was detained for 15 days in March last year after I told a Chaoyang district court judge I would have slapped him in the face if we weren't in a courthouse, after he denied one of my neighbours a chance to speak. I have been warned repeatedly not to get involved with the other homeowners. I won't be surprised if authorities continue to harass me in the lead-up to the demolition of my home. In the meantime, I have been deeply encouraged by my neighbours' support. I remember when several police officers came to our home in the middle of the night in 2009. About 100 neighbours came to my rescue when they were alerted by another neighbour who banged on a metal basin in the street. We later followed the officers all the way back to the police station, demanding a detention warrant, and they eventually relented.
How do you respond to the claim that some people are merely holding out for more compensation?
I have heard of such accusations, but we are entitled to a fair chance. We are simply asking that government agencies and the district court comply with official regulations and policies. It feels like a living hell when you are forced to fight the government.
How long do you think you can hold out?
We were ordered again to move out by June 27, but we ignored the order. But our home has been blocked by security guards since June 21, when we staged another protest. I had locked myself in a giant metal cage that was on the premises, and the police quickly heard about it. Now my home is blocked by police officers and security guards who keep all visitors out. Every time I need to go out, I must tell the guards where I am going, or call the police to get clearance. Meanwhile, we have filed an application with the municipal housing commission, seeking a review of the compensation package offered by district authorities.