“They’ve started a war” – A tale about house ownership in China

house ownership in China

After 8 years of waiting, my in-laws can now soon move into their own apartment (why people moving into that compound had to wait this long is another story that recently even made it into the local news). The place they currently live at is a little house without running water that will soon be torn down. I really like the old little house. It comes with a garden and a friendly dog and would be the perfect place for our son to run around now that he’s about to learn how to walk. But this post is not about the old house or about how much I wished for it not to be torn down. This post is a tale about house ownership and about my in-laws’ landlady and her family, who live in a house just like the one my in-laws live in.

The landlady and her husband are a couple in their late 50s. Many of the small houses in the vicinity have been torn down already, but a few are still standing. One day in April, 2015, my husband tells me:

“They’ve started a war.”
“What happened?”
“The other night, someone threw a brick through the window into the landlady’s house. They then threw the brick back from inside. The next day, an excavator pulled down their wall fence. They are afraid to leave the house.”

When I put up this post, this is how far the story went. But in the meantime, more has happened:

A few days after this occurrence, another excavator appeared and literally loaded off a big shovel of shit right in front of their window. The landlady went to the local authorities but they said there was nothing they could do.

More days passed by. One quiet night, a gang of about 30 men suddenly appeared in front of their house and asked them to come out. The landlady was very much afraid that they’d get beaten up or worse, so in the end she signed a contract to give up their house and the house my in-laws currently live in within a week’s time.

For the last few days, my in-laws have been busy getting the new apartment ready. They couldn’t start sooner because the compound didn’t have any water or electricity. So far, they have done the floors, the walls and the electricity. The kitchen will arrive in two weeks’ time. They already bought a bed and a sofa. It could be much worse, right?

Have you ever heard of anything similar? I’d love to read about your experiences.

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Hi, I'm Ruth, welcome to China Elevator Stories! I have been living in Kunming and Shenzhen in the past and am now staying in Northeast China with my Chinese husband and our baby and toddler son. Join us on our journey bridging worlds!


  1. Obviously, as a foreigner who rents, I have never faced anything like this. But as someone who works for a local newspaper, I hear stories about this all the time. It isn’t so common in SZ because there are few old neighborhoods left (and the few that remain are watched pretty closely by international organizations hoping to preserve them), but in other areas that are rapidly developing, stories like this are extremely common. I would always hear stories about landowners and householders being beaten up or even killed for defending their property when we lived in Hunan.

  2. Unfortunately, I’m not surprised. Horrified, but I think China is known for strong-arming their way. With teachers contracts, housing, reputation damaging, cheating…it must be terrifying.

  3. That is such a brutal tactic to wrestle ownership of housing and land. People must be very desperate, or they are really just insistent on getting their way. Rules and law seem to get thrown out of the window when you have the numbers and I’m guessing “know” people in the neighbourhood. Scary incident. Glad no one was physically hurt.

    • Money rules. It’s sad, but it’s the truth. If people would get proper compensation, I’m sure there’d be less problems like this. I mean, they usually do get apartments, but the quality is often not on par with what they should get.

  4. Sreetama

    this kind of strong arming used to happen in India in the eighties. But it was a lot more
    covertly done – mostly involving threats of physical violence meted out behind closed doors. It doesn’t happen anymore but I can’t help but wonder how much of Bombay’s glittering lights and talk skyscrapers are built on people’s memories and emotions.

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