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Artists’ Homes Destroyed Before Petition Is Heard

Artists living outside of China return to their roots, only to find themselves victims of China’s draconian land relocation policies.

As an old Chinese saying goes, "Fallen leaves return to the roots," which refers people returning to their ancestral homes in old age. Little Valley Garden Condos, a suburban residential area, was developed in 1994 with attracting overseas Chinese in mind. Located ten miles away from Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, this residential project consisted of 165 condominiums across twenty acres of land. For many, this was the perfect place to retire to, and they spent their savings on the homes that cost approximately 750,000 yuan (~$90,000).

Life was good for the community for six years, as 165 families moved in, among them many prominent artists and writers. Many cultural activities were organized to celebrate the community. Three art festivals were held with artists from France, Hong Kong and other areas in China. The Chinese media showcased this as one of the success stories of community development.

This all changed in January 2001, when the Municipal Government of Guangzhou started a new development project, the Guangzhou University Town. By April 2003, the Guangzhou Land Resources and Housing Management authorities posted the notice of housing demolition to provide the construction site for the new project, which included Little Valley Garden Condos.

The original real estate developers of Little Valley Garden Condos obtained all of the legal documents, including a 70-year lease on the land, from the Guangdong provincial government, as well as the permit for construction and sale from the Fan Yu city government. All of the condo owners possessed documents of legal ownership. However, the local government voided their deeds to the land with no explanation.

Upon seeing the notice of demolition, some residents of Little Valley Garden Condos hired a lawyer, Mr. Gao Zhisheng. As their legal council, Mr. Gao immediately sent three requests to the provincial and municipal government on behalf of the residents to protect their constitutional rights to private property.

The first request went to the Guangdong Provincial Government, which was ignored.

The others were sent to the Ministry of Land Resources and the Ministry of Supervision, requesting an investigation into the planned demolition of private housing. The government officials either refused to get involved or denied receipt of documents from Mr. Gao. In both cases, Mr. Gao never received a response.

Twice, Mr. Gao attempted to file a lawsuit at the Guangzhou Municipal Court, but the court refused to accept his papers. Mr. Gao talked about his encounters there. "I told them that they could dismiss my case, but they should not refuse to file the lawsuit, because that is taking away my clients’ constitutional right to go to court. But they still refused to accept the papers." His attempt to file the lawsuit in the Guangdong High Court also failed. The court authorities, again, refused to accept the papers. Mr. Gao told a witness that he knew what the result would be before he went there, but he still went to the court. "This is the proper procedure to follow," he said, "even if I am dealing with crooks, when they are in that position, I have no choice but to work with them."
Mr. Gao explained: "The right to private property is a part of the Chinese Constitution. However, the Municipal Housing Demolition Management Regulations by the State Council stipulates that when there is a dispute about compensation regarding housing demolition between the property owners and the government agency that wants to carry out the demolition, the local government has the final say. This in essence renders private property rights meaningless."

After exhausting all legal channels, more than thirty condo owners prepared their backpacks for their journey to Beijing to petition the Ministry of Construction, Ministry of Land Resources, and the State Council to uphold their rights to private property. They also sent an open letter to Premier Wen Jiabao.

Before their case was resolved, the condos were demolished in July 2004.

Zhao Tong is a correspondent for Chinascope.