China wants to rebuild countryside but first must demolish homes

Over the last several decades, China’s population has shifted to cities as its economy expanded. However, more than 40 per cent of its people still continue to live in its countryside. And now, China’s Communist Party wants to modernize rural villages by rebuilding them completely.
An ordinary farmer from Shandong province along China’s east coast, Mr. Liu, witnessed his home in a village near the city of Heze being demolished in January this year.
“To demolish my home, about 100 security officers surrounded and subdued me and detained me,” he said.
He then called the police. They beat and detained him. Mr Liu has asked to use only his last name because he fears local officials could physically hurt him again.
Mr. Liu’s village is one of thousands being torn down as China’s countryside undergoes a massive restructuring. Local governments want to merge villages and, build new high-rise apartments. To do so, they have to tear down thousands of villages first. The reasoning behind lumping villages together is so local services can be delivered more efficiently and villagers can upgrade their housing.
However, most residents do not want to move because they will then have to pay the big price difference between the new apartment and the value of their original homes, which, conveniently, the state decides.
Mr. Liu stated that the new homes are too far from his fields and ill-suited for farming.
“Our old homes had plenty of outdoor courtyard space for storing farming equipment and grain and animals. Look how inefficiently they use the space here,” he said.
“The houses look nice. That’s for sure. But they cannot be used by farmers,” he added.
China’s urban areas enjoy preferential access to better education, social services and jobs. As a result, the countryside has lagged behind. That’s not a good look for China’s ruling Communist Party, and hence, beginning in 2005, China has tried to revamp village infrastructure and agricultural technology.
Sanitation improved, new roads were built, incomes rose, but soon, the campaigns took a different turn, said Kristen Looney from Georgetown University, who studies rural governance in China.
“In practice and implementation, it’s all become about housing. The construction of houses themselves generates spending because once people move into homes, they have to buy durable goods to fill those homes, and they become these new kinds of consumers,” Looney explained.
“And by consolidating sprawling villages into compact multistory buildings, local governments can also sell the freed-up land at a high margin. It’s now a major revenue source for many local governments.”