BEIJING – One place tourists aren’t likely to see during the Olympic Games next month is a nut shop just north of the Forbidden City. Plastered with posters of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao and four Chinese flags, the little building appears held together with tape and string.
The Yu family moved in during the 1950s and opened a small shop in 1981, about the time China began its transformation from a planned economy into one that promotes entrepreneurs and, in theory, protects private property rights.
But the nut shop is now slated for the wrecking ball.
As officials step up efforts to beautify Beijing, especially along the Olympic torch relay route where the shop is located, the Yu family and their neighbors are left to wait, worry and appeal for sympathy.
“We hung pictures of the leaders because we want to show that we love the Communist Party,” said Yu Changsheng, 45, one of the shop’s owners. “Since I’m Chinese, I love China. I hope the Olympics will be hosted successfully.”
More than 1.25 million people in Beijing – at times as many as 13,000 people a week – have been evicted since the city won its Olympic bid in 2001, according to the Geneva-based Center on Housing Rights and Evictions.
These residents are facing an issue that surfaces in every Olympics, gentrification in the name of improving a city’s image. But in China, where the government is clamping down hard on anything that incites instability, those trying to fend off what appears to be inevitable have fewer options and face greater risk.
As Yu stood outside his store recently, neighbor Wang Zhenjiang pedaled up on a bicycle and asked how much the government had offered him. Yu replied: $49,523 for 398 square feet, a third of what it would take to buy a new apartment in the same neighborhood.
A court order says the Yu house would be demolished Sunday, but the family has staved off confrontations in the past by gathering television crews and citizens angry about evictions.
“There’s apparently a notice from Beijing municipality that all these cases must be solved” by July 20, said Nicholas Bequelin, a China researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch. “There are some cases about which nobody wants to take the responsibility of ordering or carrying out the actual eviction, which is telling about the lack of legal basis for many of these evictions.”
Last month, police shut down the Yus’ store; officials said the area would be turned into a park.