Residents used fire extinguishers against police who fired tear gas and pepper spray during a major clash in Wayao village, Beijing, ahead of a forced demolition on June 29. Image credit: Cable News

June 2020

Location: Changping District, Beijing

Participants: Hundreds

The incident first began with a standoff between police and residents  on June 21 in a suburb northwest of Beijing, where residents used cars as roadblocks to prevent police and demolition crews from entering their village. On June 29, police armed with riot shields and long sticks used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse around 200 protesting residents, including the elderly, from Wayao Township of Changping District in Beijing. Residents attempted to stop police from advancing and neutralized tear gas with fire extinguishers. Similar incidents took place in Pinggu District in Beijing and Laishui County in Hebei. All these clashes were triggered by the demolition of  villas which government officials say were “illegal.”

The incident in Wayao, home to 1,300 households, was not the first of its kind. Dui Hua previously reported a similar protest in another village, also in Changping, in October 2019. The district government put up an eviction notice on October 17, urging villagers to leave their properties by the following day. The properties in the mass incident belong to the so-called “minor property rights houses” (小产权房). These houses are built on “village common land” collectively owned by local villagers.

In the June 2020 incident, the properties considered illegal by the district government also involved “minor property rights houses.” The villas were constructed by village committees on village common land, and were sold to outside buyers from 2008-2014. As early as 2010, the district government began issuing demolition orders of all “illegal” villas across different villages, but its policy has not been consistent. For instance, Chinese Real Estate News and China Industrial Economy News reported in 2011 that the sale of the Wayao Township villas was officially approved by the district government’s Development and Reform Commission as part of its priority project to develop the cultural and creative industry.

Residents, including seniors and artists, in Changping District invested their life savings in the villas they bought from the village committee without legal titles and/or deeds. The village committee gave them the right to use the property for 70 years. Unbeknownst to them, the district government changed tack and claimed that the village committee has no legal right in the first place to build the villas on the village common land.  

State media Legal Daily reported, according to one study, “minor property rights houses” estimated to account for 24 percent of the total urban housing areas nationwide as of 2018. In 2019, the Beijing Municipal Committee decided that a large number of existing illegal “minor property rights houses” should be demolished. A map prepared by an online media shows these “illegal villas” scattered across Bejing. Forced demolition of these properties will continue, and they will likely trigger similar mass incidents in the future.