Chinese protesters have staged a rare public demonstration in Beijing, angry over what they claim are illegal land seizures by the government and inadequate compensation.
About 50 protesters marched outside the construction ministry in the Chinese capital for about two hours on Thursday before being held by police for questioning and allowed to leave.
The protesters from the booming port city of Tianjin, 120km east of Beijing, said government land seizures and high housing prices left them with no hope of being able to buy new homes.
Wearing white headbands emblazoned with slogans denouncing government demolitions, many in the crowd demanded to see the head of the construction ministry.
The protest underscored how rapid urban redevelopment is leaving many Chinese behind and widening an already stark wealth gap.
On Thursday official data showed that China’s already record-high housing prices had jumped 10.5 per cent in December from a year earlier, inflating the assets of Chinese who already own property but straining the ability of millions of others to buy homes.
While protests over property seizures and other non-political issues have popped up occasionally in Beijing, the gathering on Thursday was unusually large and well-organised.
Police and security guards attempted to prevent journalists from filming the demonstration and tried to rip off headbands from the protesters’ heads.
The protesters said that in one case the government sold valuable land in the centre of Tianjin to developers who later entered it in a Hong Kong auction to attract investors.
One of the protesters, Wang Xueyi, 57, said she had received 104,000 yuan ($14,250) in compensation for her two-bedroom home in Tianjin’s central Hexi district in 2004.
“We regular citizens can’t go on anymore. What can we do? We have no house, our homes have been demolished and we can’t even petition,” she said.
She showed reporters documents which said officials sold the land to a local developer.
Wang said her husband died shortly afterwards from stress and she now lives with relatives.
“The compensation is not fair. People can’t afford to buy a new house with the money,” she said.
Wang said she was detained for more than 40 days last summer when she went to Beijing to petition the government.
Another demonstrator, Feng Xuying, said her house was demolished in June 2004 and she and her husband, both of whom are unemployed, received 42,000 yuan in compensation.
Feng said the couple and their two daughters were afterwards given space in a hospital building while the land on which their former home stood remains unoccupied.
“I have been petitioning in Tianjin and Beijing in order to get fair treatment, but no one with the government visited us,” she said.