Villagers say bullying won't force them out
Dozens of villagers living near Tai Lake in Zhoutie town, Jiangsu, are under pressure to leave their homes to make way for property development and industry expansion.
Zhoutie, administered by Yixing city authorities and located on the west bank of Tai Lake, has been, like many rural mainland towns, undergoing rapid urbanisation in recent years.
While there haven't been any forced evictions, villagers say authorities are using bullying tactics to compel them to yield.
One resident of Zhoutie village, located in the town of the same name, said her 23-year-old daughter was told to stop coming to work at a state-owned gear manufacturer three months ago because her family had not signed an eviction agreement before the May 18 deadline.
She said the compensation amount was unacceptable.
'For the first month [of staying home from work] she continued to receive a salary. But after that it stopped. Her factory said she would be paid for the rest of the time she hadn't worked when she returns to her job - but she has to convince us to leave our home before she can go back,' the woman, in her 50s, said.
'My daughter is hanging around at home. She does nothing. She blames us - but there's nothing we can do. The government's in the wrong,' she said.
Her family is among the 45 holdouts in Zhoutie village. Some 30 households have already moved. About 20 hectares of land in the village - located less than two kilometres from the Tai Lake - has been claimed by the local government, which has designated it for property development.
Villagers were told in a letter in April that demolition of their homes was necessary to 'carry out the Socialist New Village campaign and to advance farmers' living standards'. The letter was sent by the Zhoutie village committee and the Yixing Housing Demolition Corporation.
Villagers would be entitled to buy new homes, which would be ready in 21 months, at a cost of around 700 yuan (HK$850) per square metre, the letter said. But farmers say they have been offered only 400 to 500 yuan per square metre for their homes.
Families that leave voluntarily before the cut-off date will receive an extra 75 yuan per day to the deadline, the letter said. Some villagers say cadres from the village committee visited their homes every two to three days between April and mid-May, trying to convince them to leave.
Zhou Zhenhua , 77, said he could not afford to buy a new flat and decorate it. He would have to spend 800 yuan a month on rent for the 21 months while he waited for his new home and it would be a struggle to make ends meet, he said.
'I only get 1,500 yuan a month and my wife has no income,' he said. 'My family lost our farmland five years ago and the payout was paltry.'
He said he didn't want to leave his home, a two-storey building with a total floor area of 270 square metres, because he has lived there his whole life. 'They said flats are better and more convenient than our townhouses, but I don't think so,' he said. 'My house is spacious, and I can keep chickens and ducks in my yard.'
While Zhou's family has not been threatened by local officials, he said rubbish was not collected from his block for some days in June, and it took a protest by villagers before the service resumed. He said his children work in cities elsewhere.
The families that have already left either have members in state-owned firms or they have other places to live, according to Zhou.
In nearby Fenshui village, also in Zhoutie town, 78-year-old Zhou Ximei alleges a local cadre threatened that she would be kidnapped if she didn't move.
Her home is part of the 27 hectares of land in Fenshui that is being claimed so that Jiangsu Shenqian Food Packaging Corporation can expand, villagers said. The company declined to comment.
'I'm scared,' Zhou Ximei said. 'We're still here, but it's a battle against the government that ordinary farmers like us can't win.'
But Yang Juntao , an official with the Yixing Housing Demolition Management Office, thinks those who are refusing to budge are simply 'too greedy'. 'We can't physically force them to leave,' he said. 'But the village cadres will step up their efforts to persuade the remaining villagers to go.'
He said there the government had not received any complaints of intimidation from villagers.