There are two assets that China indisputably has an immense amount of: people and land.
Over the last several years, local regime officials have been assiduously engaged in a creative manipulation of both: confiscating land from farmers in the less densely populated rural areas, while convincing them that it’s time for the “high life”: life in a modern, high-rise apartment complex with all the amenities. Just like in the large, congested cities of China.
Zhou Wenhui didn’t know what he would lose in the move “up”: He now stands as a statistic in the regime’s widespread rural relocation campaign titled “moving the farmer upstairs.” A year ago, the farmer from a village in Jiangsu Province proudly called home to a house, a yard, and a few acres of land. He and his family grew vegetables and raised poultry, which was an additional source of income and a pleasant way to bond with family members and other farmers.
But officials moved to expropriate the property, uprooting the Zhou family and putting them in a multi-storied apartment building. The family now has to pay a property management fee of more than 200 yuan (approximately US$30) each month and other previously unincurred expenses. There is no yard for growing vegetables, and they will no longer hear the lazy clucks of chickens.
Before claiming the land and living accommodations from Zhou and other villagers, local government officials reassured them that the move would improve their quality of life, something one would be foolish to turn down. “But our lives have not improved,” Zhou told New Epoch Weekly. “It’s not nearly as good as before.”
Profitability in Land Exploitation
Zhou’s village is only one of many in China whose families are being upturned from their bucolic surroundings and precious land, to be transplanted into the world of vertical apartment living, without land privileges. The campaign of “moving the farmer upstairs,” with its literal upward mobility and implied status, has in the past few years affected 26 provinces and cities across the country. While local governments boast of reinventing rural spaces, the interminable construction projects are fueled by the regime’s insatiable drive to satisfy ambitious land quotas in urban areas.
A 2006 Ministry of Land and Resources (MLR) regulation stipulates that urban construction areas can be expanded if more farmlands are created in a district’s rural areas. While the sale of land has become a rapid and major source of income for many local governments, officials were quick to realize that stacking agrarian families in apartment complexes was an expeditious way to generate more farmland.
According to Southern Weekly, one city’s top official bragged to a central government rural work team that his local government would make 700 billion yuan in the next three to five years, simply by moving a million local farmers into apartment buildings.
“The one million farmers are residing on at least one million acres land. If they are all moved into apartments, it will free up at least 0.7 million acres. If an acre sells at one million yuan (US$150,033,) it’ll add up to 700 billion yuan (US$105.0231 billion.) What can’t be done with 700 billion?” he boasted.
While the campaign has promised to improve quality of life for farmers, the enticements are rejected by a Shandong farmer, armed with simple math calculations.
“They expropriated our high quality houses at 160 to 550 yuan (US$24 to US$86) per square meter, and then made us buy apartments at 800 to 1,000 yuan (US$120 to US$150) per square meter,” the Shaozhuangsi village farmer told New Epoch Weekly. “Now we are neck-deep in debt. Is this improvement or deterioration for our lives?”
A Shandong Province farmer named Xu told New Epoch Weekly that the villagers don’t even have a place in the new apartment buildings to dry their newly harvested peanuts.
“Every household had a cellar in the yard to store apples, since apples are a major product of our region,” he said. “Where do we store the apples now?” That they could no longer keep livestock or grow vegetables saddened him deeply, he said.
The additional expenses for energy and water arising from apartment dwelling has been an additional financial burden. A farmer named Fan told New Epoch Weekly that some villagers sleep between two electric blankets in order not to consume natural gas. He said that others have even resorted to the risky practice of making a hole in the apartment wall to use coal stoves to heat the room.