Angry Guangzhou natives in the ramshackle village of Tan, the last urban village left standing in the posh Zhujiang New Town, have stepped up their fight in court this week to protect their ancient homes.
Four families from Tan appeared before the Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court on Wednesday, trying to get their eviction orders overturned. And more than 200 people showed up from Tan and other urban villages that are seeing forced evictions without what the residents consider fair compensation.
Meanwhile, as they wait for the court to rule on the matter, the fight is ongoing in Tan, where residents battle with thugs and bulldozers on a daily basis.
Most of Tan village is buried under concrete rubble, and abandoned cats can be seen. There is no telephone line, internet access or street lights.
Birds are trying to find places for new nests, such as under the eaves of dilapidated buildings, but those structures do not last long. "Last week, I tried to catch baby swallows falling from their nests; I was too late. They are searching for new homes, only to wait for them to be wrecked again by the machines," said 47-year-old Yao Qijiu from Hong Kong, who quit his job in a vegetable wholesale market in November to defend his homeland with his brothers in Guangzhou.
Several structures are torn down in Tan every day. A 68-year-old man, who was recently twice beaten up by thugs who were allegedly hired by developers, now carries small bags of chilli powder with him everywhere he goes.
"Possessing a knife is illegal, so I bought 2kg of the hottest chilli powder to protect myself," he said. "My Communist Party membership was stripped last year, as I was blamed for failing to lead villagers to sign an eviction agreement."
Most villagers have caved. The remaining 20 or so natives who quit their jobs in Guangzhou and Hong Kong now stay to protect their homes.
"This is the land left by our ancestors more than 800 years ago. It's our root, our lifeline, and the only thing we have," said local resident Yao Binghua .
In 2011, former Guangdong party chief Wang Yang slowed down the demolitions of 138 urban villages and ordered preservation instead.
But the wrecking balls have been in full swing since Hu Chunhua succeeded Wang, as he has urged cadres to speed up construction to maintain high economic output.
The remaining villagers don't dare to leave their homes unattended. They often buy enough groceries to last 20 people five days. "They are constantly looking for a chance to tear my house down. I must remain or there will be nothing left for my four sons," said a 68-year-old woman.
The site developer, Guangdong Zhuguang Group, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Urban villages were agricultural communities on the outskirts of Guangzhou before it began to prosper over 30 years ago. They are now dwarfed by skyscrapers and comprise about 22 per cent of the city's area.
They are poorly designed, built and ventilated but have provided affordable homes for migrant workers in a costly city.