The Wang (王) family in Taipei’s Shilin District (士林) yesterday celebrated the completion of their temporary house with a ritual to drive away bad luck and by placing a house number plate they had made themselves — but there were more tears of sorrow than joy in the ceremony.
“Keep on fighting, Wangs. We are with you,” a crowd of supporters, members of the Taiwan Alliance for Victims of Urban Renewal, shouted as the 82-year-old Yang Yu-mei (楊玉美) placed the house number on the front door of their newly built temporary shelter — which the family and their supporters had built on the site where the family’s old home once stood.
Yang walked over burning fire before entering into the house, a traditional ritual believed to rid a person of bad luck.
Yang is an aunt of Wang Kuang-shu (王廣樹), the head of the family.
The Wangs have lived in Shilin for over a century. However, two of their houses were demolished by force last month to make way for an urban renewal project.
Although the Wangs never agreed to take part in the project, their land was still included, since more than 75 percent of land owners on the block agreed to it, and according to the Urban Renewal Act (都市更新條例), the construction firm in charge of the project may ask the city government to demolish the houses of the remaining land owners even if they object.
“This temporary house is not just a shelter for the Wangs, it’s a symbol of resistance for all victims of urban renewal whose properties are taken away despite their objection,” said Kuo Kuan-chun (郭冠均), a member of the victims’ alliance.
“Over the past month when the Wangs and their supporters stayed here to protest, we’ve been harassed and threatened by the construction firm several times, but we will not bow to the threats. We will continue the fight until we get justice,” Kuo said.
Alliance Chairman Peng Lung-shan’s (彭龍三) comment echoed Kuo’s.
“The collaboration of construction firms and the city government has turned urban renewal into an act of terrorism,” he said. “The city government said it wants to help the Wangs and that it wants the law to be revised, but it has done nothing in the past month.”
Earlier yesterday at around 2am, clashes broke out between supporters of the Wangs and about 200 construction workers and men in black sent by the construction firm as it tried to seal off the site by erecting a wall.
A dozen police officers were at the scene, but they stood aside and did not intervene to stop the conflict.
Because of the strong resistance, the construction firm eventually gave up its effort to seal off the site, after hours of dispute.
Pian Tzu-shu (邊子樹), deputy commissioner of the Taipei Urban Development Department, said yesterday that the late-night construction did not violate regulations because the construction firm has obtained a construction license and has the rights to continue construction at night, as long as it does not exceed noise thresholds.
He insisted the city government would not interfere with the dispute between the construction firm and the Wang family, as the firm has the right to dispose of the land.
Additional reporting by Mo Yan-chih