Things turned ugly, Xu said, when she rejected the offer. Officials cut her water and electricity supply and Xu and her husband were threatened and beaten, she said.
“One of them called and he claimed to be former Chinese president Hu Jintao (胡錦濤),” Xu said, referring to a man harassing her family. “He said, ‘I am Hu Jintao.’ So what if we are demolishing your home? What can you do?’”
Xu said her husband eventually signed the deal under threat, but the family has only received 1 million yuan in compensation. Their house was torn down by a work crew hired by the government for 200 yuan and a pack of cigarettes each, her husband said.
The family owned several houses in their village before they were relocated and have received eight smaller apartments from the government in compensation.
However, Xu said the apartments did not come with property deeds, and the 580m2 house that was their family home and most valuable asset has not been properly accounted for.
Elsewhere in Binhu, similar accusations abound. A group of five residents in the next village said authorities refused to recognize property deeds dated before 1979, when China’s modern economy was created, and those homes were razed without compensation. Some said the government told them they own too many homes and that it cannot afford to pay for them all.
At least 41 Chinese have set themselves on fire to protest land grabs since 2009, Amnesty International said in a report last year.
“You have to generate growth if you are a local government official,” senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong Nicholas Bequelin said. “The easiest way of doing that is flipping land.”