Unintentional Demolition: Chinese Official’s Illegal Construction Goes Wrong

January 31, 2015 Updated: February 9, 2015

When a Chinese government official’s ambitious basement project collapsed, it buried itself, destroyed part of a road, and left over a dozen households in central Beijing homeless.

The 18-meter (59 feet) deep, five-level underground construction site run by National People’s Congress representative Li Baojun, collapsed in the morning of Jan. 24. Located in Beijing’s Xicheng District, it took a section of Deshengmennei Road and several residential buildings with it, resulting in a 10-meter (33 feet) deep pit. 15 households were evacuated following the incident.

Li Baojun, a representative for the city of Xuzhou in Jiangsu Province, also chairs a corporation with some one billion yuan ($160 million) in fixed assets, according to a report by mainland Chinese financial website Hexun. Li has a history of undertaking illegal construction projects, and his latest fiasco is no exception, with neither official paperwork nor proper planning, oversight, or labor quality.

Local residents were aware of the construction since before the incident. Though Li’s property was surrounded by steel-plated fencing, workers could be heard within.

Li himself admitted to the construction of the basement last July and promised to take “corrective measures.” These did not materialize, as several months later construction restarted.

The area around Deshengmennei Road and Li Baojun’s property had previously undergone heavy demolition and reconstruction work in 2006, leaving only five of the original buildings. Two of these were subject to official protection, meaning that further modification or demolition would require permission from local authorities. In 2010, Li ignored this ordinance when he acquired the remaining buildings and demolished all of them.

Li has not taken any public action to resolve the incident or compensate its victims.