RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
China's coastal city of Shanghai is undergoing a radical facelift, and tens of thousands of residents are forcibly evicted from their apartments every year. Many have accused unscrupulous real estate developers of conspiring with corrupt government officials to seize their property for little or no compensation.
As our weeklong series on the transformation of Shanghai continues, NPR's Louisa Lim reports on the experience of one group of residents.
(Soundbite of traffic)
LOUISA LIM: I'm standing near to the northern part of Shanghai's famous waterfront, the Bund, right next to a scrap metal shop. I'm standing right opposite a beautiful building. It was built in 1928. It's an example of art deco Shanghai. It's sort of a curved, sinuous building.
But the reason that I've come here is to meet a man called Mr. Huang(ph). He's lived here for decades, and now he and the other residents of this building say they are being thrown out as part of an urban renewal scheme, and they're very unhappy about it.
Let's go in and see if we can meet him.
(Soundbite of construction noises)
LIM: So there are lots of locked doors and eviction notices here.
Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)
Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)
LIM: There's one, two, three, four, five, six, seven people outside the door -two in police uniforms. What are you doing here?
Unidentified Man #3: (Foreign language spoken)
LIM: Why are the policemen here? Why?
Unidentified Man #4: (Foreign language spoken)
LIM: They say they are just carrying out their public duties, and if I want to know more about it I should get in touch with the political department. Well, it doesn't seem as if I'm going to get to see Mr. Huang at the moment.
He phones me and tells me to go to another address, and up in a rickety elevator.
(Soundbite of elevator doors opening)
LIM: (foreign language spoken). Three of his neighbors are waiting for me. They won't give their real names for fear of the consequences. As former officials, they were given their flats at very low rent - they thought in perpetuity - as recognition for their contribution to the state. They now say they've been evicted by the developer, a company set up by a Mitsubishi subsidiary called Rockefeller Group International, and a government-affiliated real estate company, the New Huangpu Group. The developer is planning to use their building as part of a high-end retail and office project called Bund Origin.
Mrs. Gu, who is in her 70s, is angry.
Mrs. GU (Building Tenant): (Through translator) We welcome foreigners who come to help China get rich. It's fine if you want to refurbish our neighborhood, but if you need our homes, you have to refer to us properly first. It's not right to force us out.
LIM: The residents turned down initial compensation offers worth, they say, only a sixth of the apartment's market value. They then lost a court case over their legal rights to the property. They were ordered out. While more than 80 percent of their neighbors have struck compensation deals with the developer, these few say they haven't agreed on or received any money. When some were evicted, like Mr. He, they even chose to leave behind their possessions.
Mr. HE (Evicted Building Tenant): (Through translator) I didn't take anything except the clothes I'm wearing. If I took my things, it would be like letting Rockefeller steal my apartment. One day I will return, because truth and justice is on my side.
LIM: He reminisces about growing up in the building - watching holiday fireworks over the Huangpu River from the roof, running downstairs for Peking Opera performances in the theater there, and his whole family sleeping in the corridor during the sweltering summers.
All the neighbors feel a painful sense of dislocation.
Unidentified Woman (Evicted Building Tenant): (Through translator) Every day I see my apartment and I want to cry. I lived there for decades. My sons were born there. I feel so sad my heart hurts. I don't want to talk about it.
LIM: When asked about the case, a senior city planner, Tang Zhiping, dismissed the claims.
Mr. TANG ZHIPING (Shanghai Senior City Planner): (Through translator) The relocation process is very beneficial to Shanghai residents, but they always want more money. If you ask them if they are satisfied with their compensation, not one person would claim to be happy.
LIM: In a statement, Rockefeller International says, quote, “Relocation is the sole responsibility of the New Huangpu Group.” Rockefeller says it understands residents had been offered market or above-market compensation. For its part, the New Huangpu Group said any residents claiming they hadn't received any compensation were talking nonsense.
But the New Huangpu Group is now embroiled in a huge political scandal which has resulted in the downfall of its top two officials. The controversy revolves around the illegal investment of the city's pension fund in real estate projects. It's led to the dismissal of Shanghai's party secretary, Chen Liangyu.
(Soundbite of fireworks)
LIM: The evicted residents greeted news of Chun's demise with elation and a fireworks display. They believe they're direct victims of the scandal. Mr. Huang was at the fireworks celebration, released after two weeks under virtual house arrest that he believes was intended to stop him from talking to the media.
Mr. HUANG (Evicted Building Resident): (Foreign language spoken)
LIM: I don't know when I'll be evicted, he said, but I'm haunted with fear.
Ultimately, these holdouts have few options but to give in, as their neighbors have. In the glitzy new Shanghai, the struggle of these residents represents the price paid for progress. Just look around this city, one said to me; wherever you see redevelopment, you'll know ordinary people's rights have been trampled.
Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.
MONTAGNE: And you can learn more about the history of the art deco building at npr.org. Our series on Shanghai continues tomorrow.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.