Master of Arts
Department or Program
Mass Communication and Media Arts
AN ABSTRACT OF THE RESEARCH PAPER OF
Dong Yu, for the Master of Arts degree in Media Theory and Research, presented on October 28th, 2013, at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
TITLE: BULLDOZED: IN THE SHADOW OF PROGRESS
MAJOR PROFESSOR: Janice Thompson
China has been the fast growing economy in the human history. Since China initiated its “Open Door Policy” at the end of 1979, it has been in the fast lane regarding economic development. Tens of thousands of people have started their own business. For much of the population, especially in big cities, living standards have been improved dramatically. Besides the basic necessities, people started to own their own housing properties. It was also the first time that private property trades were allowed since the Communism Party took power in 1949.
During the past three decades of reform, many cities have expanded under large-scale reconstruction. New residential communities, shopping malls, office buildings and financial centers are replacing the humble stone houses, courtyards and alleys that characterized old China. In order to acquire land for the new construction sites, it would often involve evicting people from their homes, demolishing old buildings and farmhouses, and occupying farmland. All over China people’s rights are being violated during the process of demolition and eviction. The conflicts between the developer/evictor and the resident/evictee have been intensified due to the lack of due process, fairness and justice in the procedures. This has led to a raised social anxiety.
In hopes of easing social instability, on March 16, 2007, The China National People’s Congress passed a controversial law to protect private property rights. It was the first law that gives the owner the right to possess, utilize, dispose of and obtain profits from the real property. This landmark law went into effect on October 1st, 2007.
The documentary followed a group of lawyers on their trips to help villagers from Hexi, in ShanDong Provence, to fight for justice. These villagers were facing forced demolition and eviction. The villagers think that the demolition did not follow the right process--through pure arbitrary government behavior, they did not get their fair compensation. It is not a single instance. Illegal demolition occurs so frequently across the country, it has become a serious problem in China.
Western media has portrayed China’s glamorous side in its skyrocketing growth and development; however, few have known or noticed the hidden facts, shattered lives, and bitter stories untold in the shadow of these skyscrapers. Bulldozed: in the Shadow of Progress reveals that not only people’s houses are being demolished, but their rights are also being violated.
This documentary is structured in two parallels. One aspect shows the unlawful demolition and illegal eviction that happened at Hexi Village in Shandong Province. The villagers were unfairly treated during the process of demolition and eviction and experienced extreme frustration. The other aspect tells the story of new generation of lawyers and people who risked their lives fighting for justice. As the story unfolds it reveals a flawed legal system--dysfunctional in protecting people's rights.
During a demolition procedure in the film, when an agreement was not reached between the development company (evictor) and the villagers (evictees), the villagers were harassed by thugs hired by developer and were forced to leave their home. They had no channels to voice their frustration or to seek justice.
The experience of this village was not an isolated incident, but a common scenario encountered by tens of millions of Chinese people. As shown in the film, the process of demolition and eviction is arbitrary and lacks due process. Those villagers relied on the land to make a living, but were not treated fairly regarding compensation, job assistance and settlement for relocation.
The villagers tried every possible way to protect their rights: they organized themselves, elected their representatives, patrolled the village during the night to fight against thugs, made efforts to appeal to both local and higher authorities, pursued help from professional lawyers, and filed their complaints at the court. However, the cases were not accepted—even after numerous attempts. As a result, no resolution was reached. Villagers were frustrated by the fact that they are considered the “underprivileged party” and thus lack protection by law. Some of the victims lost their hope to live, and even went to the extreme of attempting suicide.
On the other hand, the documentary demonstrates the courage, strength and perseverance of three lawyers who fight with those villagers for their rights. They are willing to work on these villagers’ cases in spite of frustration and dilemma. The lawyers defending citizens whose rights are being violated by the government are called “Public Interest Lawyers.” They often face extreme obstacles in defending their clients, often being harassed by thugs, and detained without legal documents–sometimes even putting their own lives at risk.
In China, lawyers are managed under the authority of the Ministry of Justice. To practice law, lawyers need to have their certifications renewed annually from bar associations. Bar associations remain under the control of judicial authorities, which are subject ultimately to the Communist Party. The renewal process has been used as a means to subvert the most outspoken lawyers. The government perceives lawyers who work on politically sensitive cases as either a threat to social stability or a potential embarrassment to the Party rule. Any case that mentions government’s wrongdoings, or disputes against government policy could be considered a politically sensitive case. Many of those out-spoken lawyers are often harassed by plain-clothed policemen, monitored by secret service, even detained and arrested without legal documents. All three lawyers in this film are under surveillance by the Chinese national security bureau for these very reasons.
The story of forced demolition that took place in Hexi is served as a vehicle to reveal how the legal system in China is operated under the government, the problem of lack of independence of judicial branch, the frustration and ill-treatment people face in fighting for their rights, the strong will and desire people hold for justice, the courage and the perseverance people demonstrate in search of a better future.
The fearlessness of the lawyers and villagers inspired me to work on this project. I believe this documentary is a powerful tool for influencing people. I hope this documentary shows the disappointing reality of law enforcement, spreads the idea of rule of law and calls for greater urgency in reforming legal system in China. Meaningful reform to the legal system in China has lagged behind China’s economic reform, which began more than three decades ago.
“China’s GDP growth figure is an impenetrable black box. There’s no way you can actually get behind the numbers and figure out where they came from.” - Economist Patrick Chovanec.
“China’s GDP data is supposed to measure economic activity. So if you build an empty airport, that shows up as an increase in economic activity, but it’s not really an increase in wealth if nobody uses the airport.” -Beijing-based economist Michael Pettis
In 1999, land sales made up just 9% of revenue for local governments. That figure skyrocketed to 64% in 2011.
Now that China’s economic growth is slowing down, the central government has ambitious plans to move a quarter of a billion rural Chinese into the cities over the next decade. There is more pressure than ever on local government officials to take people’s land by any means necessary.
I hope this documentary will bring awareness to the matter and make a difference.