Sunday, July 07, 2013

The Destruction of the Huaguang Community

The Taipei Times has written an excellent two-part series on the destruction of the Huaguang community in Taipei to make way for a ritzy upscale development...

Part 1 Refugees Squatting on a Gold Mine

Part 2 This Land is Whose Land?

"For decades, the 12-hectare Huaguang Community (華光社區), which is located in the heart of Taipei, was home to the poor, the elderly and the disadvantaged — until, that is, it became prime real estate. The area will soon be flattened to make way for a glitzy, upmarket neighborhood inspired by Tokyo’s Roppongi district. The process of forced evictions by the central government began a few years ago, and there was no relocation plan for the residents. To facilitate evictions, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), which owns the land, filed lawsuits against residents for “illegally” occupying state properties, resulting in fines to residents that range from a few hundred thousand New Taiwan dollars to several million. Most inhabitants have been forced to leave. Others have died while fighting for their right to stay."
The savagery of the government's drive to get the people off the land by defining them them as illegal residents and then slapping them with fines and lawsuits and garnishing of salaries is shocking. These are old people in their sixties, seventies, and eighties, who have been squatting here for decades, many born and raised in the community. Since everyone says that the development will make big bucks, the obvious thing to do is arrange a generous compensation plan and resettle the people in shiny new houses.

Ordinary lower-class mainlanders like these people and their forebearers were in many ways excluded from the Taiwan Miracle. The Taiwanese themselves, limited in their ability to obtain government and military jobs along with important civil occupations in the 1950s and 1960s, turned to manufacturing and developed Taiwan's brilliant miracle economy. Mainlander/KMT elites and their cronies skimmed that wealth in a variety of ways to fund the developmentalist state, party and state-owned corporations, and enrich themselves. But working class and poor mainlanders often lacked the skills, education, capital, and family connections to better their lives. They got by on state rations -- given rice confiscated or taxed away from Taiwanese farmers -- and settled down in squatter communities like Huaguang and other communities now vanished from Taipei. Now the KMT government, in that marvelous bit of alchemy by which public lands are transmuted into private gold, is screwing them.
“I was taught to love my country, but I didn’t know the country I loved was like this,” Cheng Wei-hui says. “It gives money to big corporations and condemns us people to death.”
Yes, that's right. This Flickr search (English) and this one (Chinese) will bring up some nice pictures of the community.
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Mike Fagan said...

"I was taught to love my country, but I didn’t know the country I loved was like this..."

What was I saying about State education the other day? This guy might might have been better off sitting around all day with transcripts to Elvis Costello records all day instead of going to school...

Michael Turton said...

She was taught to love the ROC.

Bret said...

When I first arrived in Taiwan in the 1980s, every inch of space designated by the Japanese for parks and public facilities was occupied by mainlander shanties. The best parts of Taipei today, from Daan Forest Park to Honglou in Ximending, were created by ridding the area of squatters. The Huagang squatters have lived on prime real estate rent-free for more than 60 years. Your sympathy is totally misplaced. You should feel sorry for the people of Taiwan who had their public areas stolen by squatters for decades. Next time you take a stroll around Daan Forest Park, you should ask yourself if you would prefer the area to still be covered with squatter shacks.

Michael Turton said...

Hahaha. My feelings about them are complex. They are both victims of the colonial regime and perpetrators of it. But all that aside, the focus here shouldn't be on the squatters' moral position, but on the shift in government tactics to lawsuits and fines to move out recalcitrant land-possessors. That's the really dangerous and ugly part of this story. We'll see these tactics again when people have a perfect right to the land.


Ben Goren said...

@Bret - I imagined Daan Forest Park to be this huge Central Park-esque green space in the center of Taipei but when I moved here and actually went to the park it seemed small and generally lacking any real charm. I'm not saying I'd like it to be covered in squatters shacks as an alternative mind you, just trying to point out that there's a difference between urban planning projects and the PR that makes for good promo videos and the reality of the final completed project. Finally, you talk about the people of Taiwan having their public areas being stolen by squatters - maybe take that point to its logical conclusion - the entire country has been occupied by squatters of one kind or the other since 1895 - and they've all come and taken what they want when they wanted it. The land seizures in Dapu are in many ways identical to the Huaguang case - should we say the formers should accept losing their homes because the architecture and location of them would not compare to the gleaming shiny new stell and glass buildings of a science park?

Mike Fagan said...

"Your sympathy is totally misplaced. You should feel sorry for the people of Taiwan who had their public areas stolen by squatters for decades."

Oh spare us the candlelight vigil for all those missing sunday-afternoon strolls; what's happening to these old people now is murder by abstraction, and whatever the historical record, there is simply no need for this.

I'm sure there are plenty of other taxpayers in Taiwan who, had they a meaningful choice in how their taxes were spent, would prefer to see these people rehoused in decent conditions - as opposed to having all those millions spunked on sinecures and various white elephants up and down the country.

Michael Turton said...

It's not even necessary to spend the tax dollars -- the government could shake down the developers for the pittance needed to house the families decently. Instead it destroyed them via lawsuits and fines. It's just sick.

Ben Goren said...

I agree with the two Michaels. Same argument goes for the Losheng Sanatorium. Whilst it wasn't the prettiest place in the world it was home and comfortable to its residents, unlike the alternative they were forced to accept which is basically an expensive, ugly concrete and tile box. It's an old saw but the measure of a government is how it treats its most vulnerable and poorest citizens. This Government, and Chen's to a certain degree, fail that test hands down because they care more about development and profiteering from land deals than about caring about the people they stiff so they can line their pockets. And, speaking of the Dapu specifically (and a recent caser in Tainan over railway redevelopment), what good are title deeds and contracts and law and rights if the Government can just requisition them all into thin air? How much contempt for people do you need to have to just steamroller your project through people's homes without so much as blinking an eye? They wouldn't dare do it to someone with enough money to fight a lengthy legal battle with a top notch lawyer that's for sure. Cowards and thieves the lot of them.

Mike Fagan said...

There's more than one way in which this whole episode is "sick". The tacit assumption that private property rights can be rightfully attributed to the one institution that systematically rends such rights into mere permissions is itself to be numbered up to some value of "sick".

In an ethically rational culture, society's most vulnerable people would be helped voluntarily and discretely.

Yet what's happening here is worse than the opposite of that; these poor, defenseless people are being legally urinated on in public by some jumped up, fat-fingered, fish-wife from the MOI who wouldn't look out of place in a Taiwanese version of the Viz. In the language of the Left... I'm offended.