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explosion in Kunming

by | 22 August 2010 | 2 Comments | Last modified: 21 Jan 1:30 am

Sometime around 11am on August 20 in Liangjiahe, Kunming, a liquefied natural gas canister exploded, injuring ten people, four of them severely. The explosion was an accident, but only slightly. The woman who set if off didn’t want it to explode, just to hiss loudly and scare off the people coming up the stairs. They were coming to drag her family out of the house so it could be demolished.

The house was virtually under siege, surrounded by construction workers with demolition equipment, people from the re-development office, government employees, and last but not least, residents who had already sold their houses to the developer. They viewed the last eight hold-out families as standing in their way of their relocation houses, to be built on the old site.

The gas canister was the last straw. The family had already thrown several Molotov cocktails down the staircase when people tried to enter the house.

Actually there were many, many previous attempts to stop the growth machine. The government and developer had early on bought off the village officials - even though they were elected - but that didn’t stop the urban villagers from protesting, petitioning, complaining. It didn’t work - it rarely does. The entire demolition process was illegal - the developer had never acquired a permit, no hearings were held, no opinion surveys were taken, etc., but courts don’t accept land cases. Protests went on for some time, and the turning point was when one of the organizers was ‘detained’ by the police for 15 days. The protests dwindled, and people began to relent in the face of the united front of the government and developers.

But not all. It’s a pithy saying, but as old Mao said, “where there’s oppression, there’s resistance.” Eight families held out until the day of the explosion. Old Mao should have flipped the saying around too (old Marx was good at this): “where there’s resistance, there’s oppression”. You probably know about the lies, deceit and threats that the developer and government come up with, and if they don’t work, the physical threats and intimidation. As soon as someone signed, the developer demolished their buildings, leaving the whole area looking like the moon:

Then by October, 2009 they cut off the water and electricity to the still-standing buildings. And in May, 2010 the threats came in the unlikely form of 40 handicapped thugs on three-wheelers. Yes, 40 handicapped thugs on three-wheelers. They besieged the buildings for more than two weeks, staying there 24-7 trying to smoke-out the hold-outs. Nasty bunch. Even beat up some reporters that came to do a story on the siege. Police were no help. Still, the hold-outs held out.

You may be asking, why didn’t the hold-outs just settle? Well, here’s what they were offered (all in rmb): 2,000 a square meter for the first 300 sq. meters, and the 700 for anything more than that.1 The family with the gas bomb would have received 810,000 in compensation for a 600 sq meter house, probably enough to repurchase a new 110 sq meter apartment in the neighborhood.

But the current structures were more than just residences. Families in the ‘urban village’ hadn’t really been ‘villagers’ since 1994, when the district expropriated their agricultural land to expand the city.2 Families still had control over the small plots of land given to them for their own houses, and starting in 2003, villages started to add stories to their houses, and rent the upper stories out to migrant workers. It was all that many families had after losing their agricultural land. Since they were still classified as ‘rural’ residents, they were not eligible for the social services that urban residents of Kunming enjoy.

A tragedy, but unlikely to be the last in Kunming. ‘Urban renovation’ is going gangbusters in the city, as surrounding mountains and Lake Dian prevent expansion except to the southeast. Dozens of ‘urban villages’ have either been demolished or on the chopping block. There’s also a trend for urban renovation plans to expand far beyond the boundaries of the ‘urban villages’ in cases that are even more egregious than this one. Stay tuned.


  1. Haven’t been able to find information about the relocation package that the families were offered. Most likely relocation would be a better deal, if the deal were to be followed through by the developer. Many families do not trust them to uphold their end of the bargain, however. []
  2. They were compensated of course, paid 13,000 per person over 18, and 8,000 per person under 18 []
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2 comments on “explosion in Kunming

  1. Pingback: china study group » Blog Archive » The map of blood houses

  2. Pingback: The History Wars and property « Churls Gone Wild

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