Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Evictions Reflect Dark Side of Shanghai Growth

As Shanghai undergoes a radical facelift, tens of thousands of residents are forcibly evicted from their apartments each year. Many have accused unscrupulous real-estate developers of conspiring with corrupt government officials to seize their property for little or no compensation.

The residents of a historic building on the Bund, Shanghai's famous waterfront, are one such group.

People who have lived in the beautifully curved, sinuous Art Deco building dating from 1928 say they're being unfairly thrown out as part of an urban-renewal scheme. The residents won't give their real names for fear of the consequences.

Some of the residents say that 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.

"We welcome foreigners who've come to help China get rich. It's fine if you want to refurbish our neighborhood. But if you need our home, you have to resettle us properly first. It's not right to force us out," she says.

These residents turned down initial compensation offers, which they say were worth one-sixth of the apartments' 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 struck compensation deals with the developer, these few say they haven't agreed upon or received any money. When some were evicted, they even chose to leave behind their possessions, like Mr. He.

"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 are on my side," he says.

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.

"Every day, I see my apartment and I want to cry," says Mrs. Gu. "I lived there for decades. I feel so sad, my heart hurts."

Tang Zhiping, a senior city planner, dismisses the claims. He says the relocation process is beneficial to Shanghai residents, but that they always want more money.

"If you ask them if they're satisfied with their compensation, not one person would claim to be happy," he says.

In a statement, Rockefeller International says "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 says it's nonsense if any residents claim they have not received compensation.

But the New Huangpu group is now embroiled in a huge political scandal, which has resulted in the downfall of its two top officials. The controversy revolves around the illegal investment of the city's pension fund in real-estate projects. It has led to the dismissal of Shanghai's communist party secretary, Chen Liangyu.

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 of the residents said, wherever you see redevelopment, you'll know ordinary people's rights have been trampled.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

Beijing Correspondent Louisa Lim is currently attending the University of Michigan as a Knight-Wallace Fellow. She will return to her regular role in 2014.