Moats dug around Chinese villagers’ houses to drive them out

Trenches dug around ‘nail’ houses in Guangzhou Photo: Quirky China News/Rex

Villagers in one of China’s largest mega-cities have reportedly found themselves cut off from the outside world after waking to discover moats had been dug around their homes.

Telegraph | Feb 7, 2013

By Tom Phillips, Shanghai

Yangji village in the southeastern city of Guangzhou has reportedly existed for some 900 years.

As China’s economy exploded and the port city’s population ballooned to more than 12 million, real estate developers moved in and Yangji’s 4,000 residents found themselves facing eviction.

Some 99 per cent of Yangji’s villagers are now reported to have abandoned their homes, but at least six families have refused to budge.

(Quirky China News/Rex)

Now, in an apparent attempt to force them from their homes, villagers who have already accepted compensation deals have reportedly used earth-diggers to carve out moats around their former neighbours’ homes.

The plight of Yangji’s resisting villagers came to light this week in a series of astonishing photographs published by the Guangzhou-based newspaper, Southern Metropolis Daily.

“The ‘moat digging’ has been going on for over a month,” state news agency Xinhua reported on Monday.

Some of the houses are completely surrounded by six-foot deep moats up to 12 feet long on all four sides, it added.

A villager named Mr Qin, who has refused to leave his home, said the moats were just one tactic “hostile” former neighbours had used to render the community uninhabitable.

(Quirky China News/Rex)

Since last November, Yangji’s electricity and water supplies have been repeatedly sabotaged, he claimed.

At least one villager, named as Li Jianming, was also beaten up. “The corner of his mouth, his teeth, and arms were covered with blood [and] his lips were split,” Xinhua reported.

In 2010, the China Daily newspaper reported that Yangji village was one of 138 communities in Guangzhou facing eviction as city officials embarked on major urban-renewal campaign.

Some 600,000 people were to lose their homes under the city’s plans to demolish “much of its old downtown, its urban villages and ageing factories”.

“As one of the key cities in south China, Guangzhou has seen a severe shortage of land for buildings,” local official Chen Jianhua told the newspaper.

Urban China’s thirst for land has created thousands of so-called “nail houses”, whose owners refuse to relinquish their homes.

In December, China’s most famous nail house – a five-storey building in Zhejiang province surrounded on all sides by a motorway – was demolished after achieving global fame as a symbol of forced evictions.

Forced evictions and land disputes are a major cause of social unrest in China, where there are tens of thousands of mass incidents each year.

This week, Chinese internet users weighed in on the unusual tactics being used to force Yangji’s remaining families from their homes.

“The property developer is really smart,” wrote one micro-blogger.

“The idea of natural moats is shockingly unprecedented. Really clever!”

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