Source: Wide Angle: "The People's Court"
The success of the market economy in China has led to a vast expansion in construction and property development projects across the country. The transition from a socialist legacy of collective ownership of land to a new system that allows for private ownership of property has not come easily, however, and many legal disputes have resulted. In this video from Wide Angle, meet a family who have been pushed off their land and feel betrayed by the promises of property developers.
Asia Map (Image)
China Map (Image)
When China's Civil war ended in 1949, Mao Zedong and the Communist Party established the People's Republic of China. They wanted to centralize power, unify the country and develop China's industry and infrastructure. A few of Mao Zedong's nationwide projects were the Great Leap Forward, a 5-year economic and social plan that he initiated in 1958, and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Unfortunately, at the end of the Maoist era, the economy and the education system of China were very weak.
Deng Xiaoping, who became China's leader in 1976, introduced new policies to encourage economic growth. Large segments of the economy were cut loose from direct state control. The private sector boomed, a new class of entrepreneurs prospered and China's formal legal system was re-established. At the same time, however, the Communist Party remained in control of a one-party, authoritarian state and a growing gap between rich and poor emerged. Employers used their newfound market power to exploit workers. Tensions developed. Conflicting claims of property rights came to be a significant problem.
The government of China decided to address these issues by trying to expand and modernize the legal system. Since the 1980s the country has opened almost 400 law schools, training hundreds of thousands of lawyers and judges. The country has also created education campaigns to encourage people to settle their issues in court rather than on the streets.
Before 1995, many judges did not have college degrees or much knowledge about the law. Since 1995, the requirements to become a judge have gotten stricter: now judges need to have a university degree and must pass a national exam. However, the judges are appointed and paid by the one-party government. Their decisions, as well as decisions and actions of lawyers, are often influenced by the Communist Party and local governments. Many Chinese citizens are bothered by the corruption they see as widespread in China.
In 2003, Hu Jintao was elected as the President of the People's Republic of China. His challenges include trying to find solutions to China's economic, social and environmental problems. One of his initiatives, the Socialist Core Value System, encourages honesty and law-abiding and ethical behavior among all Chinese citizens. Whether President Hu's goals lead to real improvements will be a key measure of China's progress toward implementing the rule of law.
NARRATOR Ran Tong took us to the outskirts of his hometown Chengdu. All around are farmlands being turned into concrete and glass. Scenes repeated around China's main cities.
RAN TONG Look at this. It all used to be farm land. All these areas are newly built.
RAN TONG Soon it will be the best part of town. The pride of Chengdu!
NARRATOR But a closer look shows the story is very different. It's riddled with land disputes - a legacy of the collective ownership established under Communism.
Property developers, conspiring with government officials, grab land cheaply from peasants whose land rights are unclear under the law.
NARRATOR Last year, developers kicked Mrs. Li and her family off their land.
MRS LI Our old house was over there. They promised that after the road was finished, they'd give us land to rebuild our house.
NARRATOR The family had to build themselves a temporary shelter.
WOMAN We're in a very bad situation. I'm very angry. They don't care about our lives. They didn't listen to us at all.
WOMAN They want to sell us an apartment at $23 per square foot.
2ND WOMAN - How can we afford that?
RAN TONG Well, that's what they cost these days!
2ND WOMAN If we don't agree we'll lose our home and our business. That's why I say the property developers and the government are in this together.
OLD MAN The truth is the rich can have it all their own way. The court just does what the government tells it to.
NARRATOR Our camera team was alerted that local thugs were coming to stop the filming.
We left quickly.
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