March 4, 2008
Hushanju, Qingdao

Yang Yunbiao is a resident of Hangzhou. His home is in Zhuqiao Village, Zhuantang County, Xihu District, and for generations his family has not left this place. In the words of his 84-year-old uncle Yang Xinbo: “Here we have stayed, we know not how many thousands of years”. One day, the Enforcement Bureau of the Hangzhou Municipal Management Administration notified him: “The government has granted this area to a development company to build villas; your home will be demolished.” Yang Yunbiao couldn’t accept this: How could the land and house left to him by his ancestors suddenly belong to someone else? So he picked up a gasoline can and a tank of natural gas, hung some banners, and prepared to conduct a one-man war in defense of his home. The “People’s Police” took immediate action, detaining him in jail on charges of “Obstructing Official Business”. A year later, the procurator officially arrested him. Though two Beijing lawyers came all the way to speak in his defense, the courts still handed him a two-year sentence.

Yang Yunbiao’s wife, Kong Qiuhua, telephoned this writer and asked, mystified, how the ‘government bandits’, who had stolen their land and ruined their home, could have been conducting legally-sanctioned ‘official business’? Her husband was guilty for protecting his own home? Was there ever such an absurd ‘law’ as this?

Building Villas on Stolen Land

The Zhejiang Sheraton Resort project was originally called the Zhejiang International Commercial Travel Resort, funded by the Keda Development Company, Ltd. (HK), and the Zhejiang Huyue Control Software Company, Ltd. The construction project was located in the number three plot of the Hangzhou Zhijiang National Travel Resort Area. Project approval was issued on December 18th, 2003, and on August 30th of 2004 they received the land use permit. But the usage specified on the permit was “Public Facilities” (2004 Zhejiang Usage/Planning Permits 01000510 and 010000511). The local government and developers, however, colluded to change this to “commercial villas”.

The Zhejiang provincial government’s actions in this case patently violate the clause reading “Cease supplying land for the construction of villa-type projects” from the “Urgent Notice Regarding the Reordering and Strengthening of Controls on the Supply of Land to all Building Plots” issued by the National Bureau of Land Resources in February 2003. It is a typical case of defying direct orders from above. The National Bureau of Land Resources promulgated another document on June 30, 2006, entitled “Urgent Notice Regarding Present Strengthening of the Controls on Land Management”. During a press conference the next day, officials from the bureau indicated that from that day forward, China would halt the supply of land and the processing of land-use paperwork for any and all villa-type real estate projects, and carry out a thorough inspection of all existing villa projects. But the local Hangzhou government paid no heed to the central government’s repeated injunctions, and on July 22nd, 2006, notified 82 households, including that of Yang Yunbiao, that they would be forcibly evicted and their homes demolished. On August 4th they carried out the eviction and demolition, and on that day also carried away Yang Yunbiao, who had been so rash as to resist.

Evictions with No Legal Basis

According to the eviction documents, the administrative body responsible for the eviction was the Enforcement Bureau of the Hangzhou City Management Administration, but it was the Xihu District Management Bureau that arrived to carry it out, along with representatives of several city government, security and court offices. Never mind that Yang Yunbiao’s home was located within the Zhijiang National Travel Resort Area – according to the principles of local jurisdiction, the Xihu District Management Bureau carrying out the evictions makes no more sense than the Hangzhou government carrying out evictions in Nanjing. Even more incredible was the participation of the city government and security bodies – even the court, in principle a judicial body, became an ‘administrative enforcement body’: is this not a mockery of the law?

The manner of enforcement was deplorable, as well. Legal regulations state that enforcers must present enforcement certificates, but not one of the hundreds of people summoned as part of the Xihu District government’s ‘allied team’ displayed any legal certification.

Amid the rumbling of the back-hoes, Yang Yunbiao’s legal residence became a heap of rubble; Yang himself, who had ‘brazenly’ attempted to protect his home, was handcuffed by the police and sent to jail.

At the time, bystanders remarked sarcastically: All they’ve got for certification is back-hoes and handcuffs!

Sign the Agreement or Receive a Sentence

Yang Yunbiao was detained that same day, and locked in a Xihu District holding cell. A week later, the remaining households had all obediently removed themselves from the scene, and the demolition was ‘successfully’ concluded. The government, observing that their warning had had its effect, released Yang Yunbiao on a 10,000 yuan bail. A year later, though Yang sought to repress his fury, wipe away his tears, and be a good citizen, he found himself unable to sign the “Relocation Compensation Agreement” issued by the development company. The result was that he was arrested by the procuratorate, a body originally intended for national law-enforcement oversight!

On August 1st, 2007, the procuratorate, a public body, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the development company in the Xihu District Court – the court that had participated directly in the case as one of the ‘administrative enforcers’ who demolished Yang Yunbiao’s home. A section of the lawsuit reads: “The defendant Yang Yunbiao used a variety of violent means, including splashing gasoline, releasing natural gas, hanging banners and verbal threats, to prevent the workers from entering his home, severely hindering national government workers from carrying out their legal duties.” “His behavior violated clause one, section 277 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China. The truth of his crimes is clear, the evidence plentiful, and he should be held legally responsible for the obstruction of official business.”

On September 5th, 2007, the Xihu District Court, also a public body, assisted in the development company’s revenge by adopting the position of the procuratorate’s lawsuit wholesale, and rejecting a lawyer’s argument that the enforcing bodies had acted without legal basis, and that Yang Yunbiao had been within his rights to defend his home. Yang was found guilty of obstructing official business, and sentenced to two years in jail.

Yang Yunbiao appealed; a mid-level Hangzhou municipal court upheld the sentence.

At last Yang Yunbiao, who had hoped to seek justice from the law, was sent to jail to serve his sentence – in the name of the law.

The case of the German water mill.

The phone call from Yang Yunbiao’s wife put this writer in mind of another case of eviction and demolition that took place in Germany, 130 years ago.

On January 18th, 1871, the Prussian King Wilhelm I was proclaimed Emperor of Germany. Not long after that, trying to curry favor with the emperor, his ministers built him a luxurious villa on the outskirts of Potsdam. One day, the new emperor looked out from his villa over the entire city, but found that his line of sight was blocked by a nearby water mill. In a rage, the emperor exercised his executive powers and ordered that the mill be “forcibly demolished”. But Germany, though it was a feudal monarchy, already had laws in place protecting the private property of individuals. The opinion of the water mill’s owner was, if the emperor could run roughshod over the law, how could he expect his citizens to be law-abiding? So he sued the emperor in the supreme court of the land. After lengthy consultation, the judges ruled that the emperor must restore the water mill to its original condition, and pay compensation. His Majesty, Emperor Wilhelm I, far from reacting to this verdict with an explosion of fury, accepted their judgment and rebuilt the mill immediately.

Time has flowed onward and now, 130 years later, the rule of law is coming to the East from the West. Even our ancient eastern country has instated a constitution and laws protecting private property. Property rights laws and regulations such as the “Real Right Law” state very clearly: Aside from publicly-owned property, all rights of private citizens to their homes and to the use of their land may not be infringed upon. And yet, the land and homes of the Yang Yunbiaos of China are as fragile as storm-tossed boats, they may be capsized and swallowed by the waves of power at any time. Never mind an emperor – even the lowliest bureaucrat, or a developer with official connections, can raze homes to the ground and drive their inhabitants into vagrancy, or even into jail.

130 years… The authority of law has traveled from West to East, but it has arrived as diluted as dishwater. Ms Hu Ziwei, a China Central Television program host, believes that China cannot be a great nation until it is able to export its cultural values. Dissident Beijing writer Dr. Liu Xiaobo puts it more succinctly: China is still a good three hundred years away from becoming a modernized country. Judging from the current state of its legal system, their words take on the ring of truth…

The owner of the Potsdam mill acted in the defense of his rights, and became a byword in the history of law. Yang Yunbiao fought to protect his Hangzhou home, and ended up in jail. One hundred years in time, 20,000 kilometers in distance, the self-same law produced two very different results. As legal professionals, how should we understand Yang Yunbiao’s ‘crime’ and ‘punishment’?

In this writer’s opinion, there’s nothing particularly shocking or outrageous about the destruction of Yang Yunbiao’s home, the theft of his land, or his imprisonment. This city, a thriving center of civilization since ancient times, is still mired in an age of legal barbarism.