Chinese farmers are “growing houses” instead of growing food

What is this picture about? Why is this poor woman being blocked out by hundreds of Chengguan (City Urban Administrative and Law Enforcements)? [Netease] On December 17, Wuhan City organized over 800 law enforcement officers to forcefully demolish nearly 40,000 square meters of illegal buildings that are near the Wuhan City to Huangshi City railway construction site. The phenomenon of local famers rushing to “grow houses” is very common.


What does “growing houses” mean?

It is yet another unique phenomenon in China, formed in the last couple of years of amazingly fast social and economic development. When the entire nation is being modernized, countless high raises are erected every year, cities are expending and county’s infrastructures are also expending in order to support the economic growth. Highways, railroads and airports; bridges, tunnels and subway systems… are being built in almost every corner in China. This means some of the existing residential and farmland in the rural areas might be in the blue-print of a governments’ huge project. The government pays for development compensations for every house they have to tear down in order to build the development project. This motivated the farmers to build houses everywhere in the rural area of China. When some of them are permitted by the government but most are illegally and cheaply built. They even start to build houses in the agricultural fields therefore people say the farmers are “growing houses” instead of growing food.

Why do the farmers “grow houses”? The answer is simple, to gain enormous profits when the time comes. They admit the fact that they are “gambling on development”. Usually development compensations are standardized, the standard amount of the compensation is usually more than double of the cost of these “planted houses”, especially if they are building them cheaply and not up to the standards.

Sounds easy enough? But you may ask if these houses are built illegally, shouldn’t the government have the rights to tear them down without giving them any compensation? Don’t they regulate these illegal houses? The answer is yes, government’s development compensation is only for legal buildings, for those illegal buildings, not only there is no compensation, the houses will be forcefully demolished also. Then why are the farmers still doing this?

If it was really that simple, then this trend of “growing houses” would not exist today. The farmers use persistence and the weaknesses within the local government to win the battles. They are persistent when local government tries to stop them from building illegal houses. The government sometimes would send people to forcefully tear down the illegal houses. However, some of these houses have no foundations and the brick walls are put together with just mud. When the house gets tore down, residents would rebuilt it overnight, the house comes back the next day again. It’s like cutting weeds, they just grow back.

If an illegal house is not torn down in time, after three, five years, new house becomes old house. Not only it already has become the farmers’ home, it also develops into a community of illegal houses. This community is quite prosperous. It is not only populated with great number of residents but it also develops streets, markets and so on facilities. Now facing the highly populated and economically active community, demolition of this place is not so easy anymore. In order to avoid further complications compensations must be given for large scale of eviction and demolition.  Then it becomes like a de facto marriage that the government tacitly approves.

The farmers also use strategies like build first and get the permits later or build on top of the existing legal buildings. They build residencies in their vegetable fields; build a second floor or even a third floor on top of their existing one story house as long as the foundation can hold it. And of course, there is always corruption, in some of the towns even the local government officials themselves are growing houses. Obtaining building permits can be achieved through “connections” and bribery.

Not all farmers can strike rich from “growing houses”, that’s why they call it “gambling on the government development”.  If it is a gamble, that means sometimes the farmers lose, that is when the government is determined enough to send an “army” to deal with the farmers to demolish the illegal buildings.

Now back to the news:

On December 17, Wuhan City organized over 800 law enforcement officers to forcefully demolish nearly 40,000 square meters of illegal buildings that are near the Wuhan City to Huangshi City railway construction site. The phenomenon of local famers rushing to “grow houses” is very common.

Protesting the forceful demolition, a farmer woman was blocked out by hundreds Chengguan (city management) from her illegally built building.



Farmers took out wheels from a truck in attempt to stop the demolition team.




The “planted” houses are glued together with mud. Experts pointed out that farmers “grow houses” are directly motivated by profits, however a deeper reason was because they fear for their lives after losing their land to the government project. In order to stop the root of the “growing houses” problem, the government should make efforts to find employment opportunities for the farmers and include them into the new city lives.


Farmers are picking wood from demolished buildings.



Over tens of thousands square meters of houses were demolished


Related news from Zhengwu:

Recently, a reader reported that someone is building houses in the dark at night near the outskirts of Wuhan train station. Yesterday 6 pm, reporter secretly visited the site and found the construction was in full swing. Around 30 workers were transporting bricks. Some of them were working on the wall. There were 7 -8 newly built houses near the construction site.




Factory worker Mr. Wang who had lived here for over 30 years said, here is very close to the Wuhan train station. There were rumors said it will be developed by the government. The villagers all started to “grow” houses after hearing this news. Just one night, hundreds of square meters of vegetable field turned into a row of houses. These houses were made of red bricks, the windows and doors were made of recycled waste materials. They were very poorly built and could not be lived in.


The reporter saw in a distance, two workers are working on the ongoing tunnel construction outside of the Wuhan railway station.


Other references:

  1. The fact is that here in Shenzhen,A lot of indigenous villager resident in 城中村 area also share a same story with this one,they prompt builting house late at night which is invalid,just with the purpose that earn a good compensation when confront with demolition work from goverment.these group are really selfish one and voracious.

    They never mind to disturb people living in the vicinity eara for unendurable noise made by construction work.!!

  2. The photo where they took out the car’s wheels is hilarious… that’s even worse than leaving your car in a bad neighborhood. :))

  3. There are similar cases near the countryside of Beijing. We saw some near the Great Wall area. It was great location with beautiful views. The price was a bargain as well! That’s how they get buyers.

  4. My motorcycle repair guy added more rooms and covered up a courtyard precisely for the reason of gaining greater compensation as his ‘home’ is due to be chai’ed in 2 weeks. The whole village of Sun He in eastern Chaoyang district tripled in size over the past year until the whole town was demolished over the past two months. Most of the original occupants of these towns had left long ago to be replaced by ‘wai di ren’ from all over China. Is a pretty amazing phenomena to watch, and a great example of economic distortions resulting from government policies. The non-existence of truly legal private land in this great socialist motherland probably also complicates matters further.

    1. “The non-existence of truly legal private land in this great socialist motherland probably also complicates matters further.”

      You hit the nail on the head. That’s not the complication, that’s the reason for the phenomenon reported above.

      The fact that people don’t actually own their unincorporated (non-urban) land and can be dispossessed quite easily is the major reason to engage in such tactics as these. If the government is going to dispossess one anyway, that person is given incentive to maximize whatever payout the government is going to make. I suppose in a system with transparency in government development plans, as well as clear and private land title, private developers would buy up well placed land, the government would lay clear claim (and pay fair prices) on the land it actually needs for the infrastructure itself. The farmers would make money, the developers would make money (building concessions, etc.), the farmers might even make enough money to start businesses in private developed companies… on the flip side, the government’s costs would not be artificially low, and it wouldn’t make any money renting out concession properties it developed itself.

      Its fair to say that the government can see a clear advantage for itself in the current system: Its only expense to maintain the status quo is money for chengguan and demolition equipment to knock down these “grown houses” every day.

  5. Hehe,, my friends’s Chinese gfs family did it too (and is still doing it as far as I know). In the outskirts of Kunming there are hundreds of small villages where people build as many stories on as possible. Most of them if not stopped only stop when they reach the minimum-without-elevator limit. Some streets in those villages are too small for a car to drive since the urbanized farmers build out into the street and on top of the first floor even build a meter or two out to get as many sqm in as possible. They also cover every available alcove or balcony of the house with extended roofs to add to the sqm.

    It is kinda ridiculous and very dangerous (plenty of the houses are at risk of collapsing and are sometimes demolished with minimum compensation just because of this) but on the other hand why not? What is the government doing for the “farmers” these days? In the Ultrakapitalist Peoples Republic of China 2009 it’s no wonder people try to grab as much as they can before the equally greedy developers move in. The lack of a social welfare system makes this a grab-as-much-as-you-can-and-run society.

  6. 气候大会谈判破裂 《哥本哈根协议》草案未通过
    发表时间:2009-12-19 17:00 来源:中国新闻网 我说两句(110条评论)

    雅虎网友:兴师动众地忙活了这么多天,只得到一个谈判破裂的结果,一些政客的眼中只有利益 点击此处 欢迎您也留下自己的看法



    中新网12月19日电 经过彻夜谈判,当地时间19日早晨8时许,联合国气候变化大会主席丹麦首相拉斯穆森宣布,《哥本哈根协议》草案未获通过。









  7. It is happening in Beijing as well, and not only by farmers. There are some illegal compounds where people employ the same strategy “build to get compensated more”.

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