Tuesday, 12 April 2011


You very often hear about decisions by the Chinese government displacing people, their homes and businesses for the sake of modernisation. Destructions of huge areas of traditional housing called Hutongs during the revamp of Beijing in run up to the Olympics and the flooding of whole towns when the Three Gorges Dam was built. Quite often people are given very little warning and whether or not they receive compensation is a bit hit and miss.

You hear about these stories, you know they happen and you know that it is unfair, but it’s very different when it happens to someone you know.

Outside the foreign student dormitory here in Nanjing there are a couple of shops lined outside ready for our custom selling all manner of goods; alcohol, cigarettes, soft drinks, instant noodles etc. We have spent long summer nights sitting outside their shabby shops drinking, playing cards, teaching them rude words in English. A fond memory of mine was watching the World Cup last year huddled around tiny TV screens when all of a sudden every Chinese person knew the name of each player on every European team.

Today one of these shops was ripped down. They are renovating the whole area around the foreign student dorms, ripping out railings and painting bricks onto newly painted maroon walls. One teacher proudly told us that it was being redesigned to look like Europe. My French friend and I rolled our eyes.

The owners of the shop were told yesterday that they had ten days to move out. They were then told at noon today that their shop was going to be ripped out this evening. All their goods were dragged out onto the street by four o’clock for the demolition at around 6. Mounds of corrugated iron and brick now lay where the little shop once stood.

What is frustrating is that we can do nothing about it. No petition to sign, no MP to call, no channels what-so-ever to give these people some kind of a voice. “没办法,” Mei ban fa, "there is no way," as the owners have told us. There is no point in trying because we all know nothing can be done.

We are now trying to host a little party on the steps outside the student dorm to try and help them get rid of their stock before they are inevitably moved on. I’m going to break out my long neglected ukulele and hopefully make an evening of it. These people have made it that much easier for many of us to partake in binge drinking and satisfy our early morning urges for instant noodles for years. This is the least we can do.

If you’re reading this and are in Nanjing, I hope to see you there. If you are not, appreciate the fact you are protected from this happening to you.