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Chieh-Ting Yeh

Chinese Homeowner Rant Goes Viral: “This Home Has Been Around For 100 Years”

China’s contract urban enforcers (chengguan, 城管) have been getting quite a bit of attention lately. Tea Leaf Nation has covered this issue before, including a report by A Capella and a further analysis by Yueran Zhang. Another incident of chengguan alledgedly abusing their public power has recently emerged on Chinese social media, but this time netizen reaction seems to be more nuanced than usual.

The City of Xiamen, in southeastern Fujian Province. Via Wikimedia Commons

A user on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter named @徐昕 posted a video clip on August 30. The video clip, likely taken by an onlooker in the southeastern port city of Xiamen, shows a woman engaged in a shouting match with chengguan officers over a dispute apparently arising from some planters the woman has placed on her home’s outer walls. The video promptly went viral on Weibo, with almost 25,000 comments and over 136,000 retweets as of this writing. 

Throughout the four and a half minute video, the woman goes on a rant about the government taking away her property, human rights in China, and the massive show of force that arrived on her doorstep:

Officer: “Show us your deed.”

Woman: “You’ll have to sue me for it. You’ll have to get a court to force me to give my deed to you. How do you prove that the Communist Party owns this house? Do you have your deed? I am just putting in planters on my wall, do I need a deed for that? …The Communist Party is 90 years old, but this home has been around for 100 years, do I need a deed?”

Officer: “…”

Woman: “Give me some reasoning here. Isn’t China a country of human rights? …Yeah we can go to court, and let’s settle also all of the stuff you guys destroyed a couple of years ago, like my walls, doors, windows, all the construction tools…and now you want to ‘enforce the law’ again? Sure, tell me what law I broke. Tell me you followed all the right procedures. What law did I break by putting in planters? Do you see the planters touch the ground? Do they occupy public land? …If us commoners’ property aren’t even protected, then what rights does anyone have in this country? …Look at this, four police vehicles and a huge army of officers just to take my planters out. If you are so brave, why don’t you go protect the Diaoyu Islands?!”

At the end of the standoff, the officers left on their modified golf carts while onlookers broke into applause. 

Netizens cheer

As @MikeZambidis noticed, the chengguan officers started out with an intimidating tone but then for the most part didn’t say anything: “I suppose Xiamen really is a civilized town; even the chengguan reasons with the people.” {{1}}[[1]]厦门到底是文明城市,还有跟人讲理的城管[[1]] @萌太麒的爸爸张雷冬 agrees: “Can’t believe they actually let her finish talking…” {{2}}[[2]]只能说,厦门城管太面了,竟然允许她把话说完……[[2]] But most people who commented expressed support for the woman in her struggle against the enforcers of the governing machinery. In addition to the terse “I like” and “this stuff is great,” some expressed admiration at how the woman carried herself in the face of intimidation. @代福平 said, “Citizens knowing how to rationally deal with conflict means hope for our society.” {{3}}[[3]]公民会讲道理,社会就有希望。[[3]] @贺念在艾城 said, “…Xiamen has a thick republican influence, and we can still see it in how this woman calmly explained her arguments. Hope this influence carries over to the rest of the country.” {{4}}[[4]]赞!去过厦门,住过鼓浪屿,那里的民国遗风淳厚,至今从这位不合作还心平气和给你讲理的女士身上,还可窥其昔日筋骨,亦盼此风来日能漂洋过海[[4]]

Overwhelming show of force

Not everyone was enamored. The following comment appeared to have been copied and pasted over 20 times: “This woman’s house is the former residence of Lin Qiaozhi (a notable female doctor born in 1901), and the deed belongs to Xiamen’s public lands bureau…She is shamelessly claiming it’s hers, and in 2009 the chengguan officers came to dismantle her illegal street business. What do we do with this kind of squatter?” {{5}}[[5]] 此女所住房是林巧稚故居;产权证为厦门国土局,此女租住且已到期,法院已下判决要她搬出,根本不是她房子,说自己房子100年真无耻,2009因她围堵邻居通道做生意,邻居报警城管拆除。这种钉子户怎么办? 故居破败不堪影响公众利益,请围观叫好者给个说法[[5]] @夏S_Summer also came to the defense of the chengguan: “Because the public has a negative image of the chengguan officers, they can’t legitimately do their jobs anymore. Here we are, quick to sympathize without understanding the whole story.” {{6}}[[6]]能不能说因为公众对城管的负面印象影响了城管真正应该做的事?不了解事情的来龙去脉就同情所谓的弱势群体。[[6]]

What to do about social conflict?

With a real life confrontation over some planters igniting a digital confrontation over the role of the chengguan, some netizens pondered the right balance between citizen rights and state power, and the nature of online social commentary. @小尢同学, in a response to the above accusation, says, “I only said her statement was well said. If the property does belong to the Xiamen government, then they could very well just indict her, and evict her under the proper legal procedures. We only saw one side of the story from the video, and if she is really in the wrong, then the legal officers had really failed to do their jobs by not even holding their ground. (Finally I agree with what she said about the Diaoyu Islands).” {{7}}[[7]]我只说这个女人说的好,如果产权证属于厦门国土局,那么大可起诉她,用法律手段强制拆除或搬出!而我们只看到了视频展现给我们的这一面,如果如你所说,作为执法人员不能够坚持正确的,反而没有一个钉子户有底气,那么也是真失败。而且,我支持她最后那句关于钓鱼岛的说法。[[7]] @LeeHeng adds, “Well no one can say for sure who is right and who is wrong, unless you are the responsible party. Right now no one has any confidence in our public servants’ attitude and practices! People tend to support the commoner in this case because the government no longer gives us any sense of security, so no matter what happens the people suffer!” {{8}}[[8]]至于事情对错谁也说不清楚,除非你是当事人,如今的人民公仆的办事方法和态度已经被千夫所指了!倾向于普通百姓是因为现代人已经在政府那里找不到安全感,所以不论对错人民百姓都是可怜的![[8]]

@四千年女神 posted a series of tweets that, perhaps, tried to sum up all of the sentiments netizens have expressed:

If we just talk about what we see, that show of force was quite an overkill. Maybe the government didn’t want to prolong the problem, so they tried to put down the problem with force. And that sister also has her own hardships. We could have calmly and peacefully resolved this conflict; we are of the same root, so why skewer each other? …The entire episode is like a snapshot of our complex society. This sister was a sacrifice to the progress of our era. There is no concrete right or wrong; we just haven’t found that key balancing point to break the bottleneck…Of course, as onlookers, we also shouldn’t jump to conclusions after hearing just one side of the story. The heavens see everything and there is justice in the world, even if it is not in our hearts. Guess we’ll let time settle everything. {{9}}[[9]] 就事论事哈,视频里那阵势确实够夸张的,也许政府也是不想把事儿闹大,所以想要速度镇压,那位气势高昂的大姐也确实有自身难言之隐,原本应该心平气和妥善处理此事,本自同根生,相煎何太急…况且,这整个事态仅是如今繁杂的社会矛盾的缩影,往大点说,这位大姐是时代发展的牺牲品。二者没有具体的谁对谁错,只是没有找到那个关键的平衡点去突破纠纷中的瓶颈罢了…当然了,作为旁观者的我们,也不能听其片面之词而一言以蔽之。人在做,天在看,这世间自有公道,而公道未必在人心,让时间来沉淀一切吧。[[9]]

As @四千年女神 says, only time will tell how things will play out; not just with this incident but with citizen confrontations with chengguan that regularly occur throughout China. As @林棋山 says, “The chengguan have improved, but not enough.” {{10}}[[10]]说明两个问题,第一个问题,城管的素质提高了,第二个问题,城管的素质还不够高。[[10]]

 

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Chieh-Ting Yeh

Chieh-Ting Yeh was born in Taiwan but grew up in New York and Boston. He was active in Taiwanese American student circles and was part of the Harvard Asia Law Society. When he is not thinking about the relationship between Taiwan and China, he cooks and watches epic Japanese dramas. He is currently based in Silicon Valley.
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1056330066 Francis Chen

    This woman has a lot of guts. I admire that

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1056330066 Francis Chen

    This woman has a lot of guts. I admire that

  • Guess

    Yes, from the perspective of a casual observer, I too find China full of painfully fussy municipal rules. A couple of months ago the municipal officers in Hong Kong gave its chief executive some hard time because he erected some illegal structures in his house compound. Come on, let’s be more reasonable, it is inside his house.

  • Guess

    Yes, from the perspective of a casual observer, I too find China full of painfully fussy municipal rules. A couple of months ago the municipal officers in Hong Kong gave its chief executive some hard time because he erected some illegal structures in his house compound. Come on, let’s be more reasonable, it is inside his house.

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