AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Demolition is a common occurrence in China in its countryside and shantytowns, where people often live in poverty. But Beijing is now demolishing large swaths of its wealthy suburbs, whose well-connected residents are protesting. It's the latest sign of rising dissatisfaction with China's government from unlikely sources. NPR's Emily Feng reports.
EMILY FENG, BYLINE: The 3,000 or so families that chose to live in the Xiangtang villa community cherish the peace of the mountains nearby. Now their days are punctuated by the noisy reminder that Xiangtang will soon disappear.
(SOUNDBITE OF GLASS BREAKING)
FENG: Demolition crews and about 300 security guards circle the Xiangtang complex each day, knocking down the unoccupied houses while keeping those who refuse to leave indoors.
YUSUF ZHANG: (Non-English language spoken).
FENG: Yusuf Zhang, one of those residents, gives me a tour of his tasteful, three-story stone house. The local government has already cut off his electricity and water to kick him out and then knock down his house without paying him. So Zhang has stored huge tanks of drinking water around his home. Boxes of dried noodles litter his marble floors. He's prepared for a siege.
ZHANG: (Through interpreter) We bought dozens of fire extinguishers to use as weapons as we prepare to protest.
FENG: Zhang is not your average petitioner. He's a cosmopolitan entrepreneur. And while the decades of China's economic opening have been kind to him, the lack of checks and balances under the Chinese Communist Party scares him.
ZHANG: (Through interpreter) We are protecting the rule of law from the Communist Party since they won't be reasonable. Only the Nazi fascists committed these kinds of crimes. We think our current government has gone mad. They're out of control.
FENG: Xiangtang villas is one of more than 100 complexes Beijing wants to wipe out. Nearly 30 years ago, Beijing permitted the rural land to be developed into villas. They wanted to attract wealthy urban dwellers and their money to Beijing's poor suburbs. And it worked. Xiangtang became one of the best-known villages. Famous actors and retired officials bought houses in the complex. Then in October, the same government posted the notices.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Through interpreter) The township government gave us three days to demolish our own homes. By December, the bulldozers have rolled in to demolish them for us.
FENG: This is another Xiangtang resident who quickly ushered us into her dark house. Her power has been cut off, too. She and her husband want to remain anonymous because they could lose their jobs in the Chinese military. This woman called the police, her local officials. Everyone simply ignored her. The district court refused to hear her case.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Through interpreter) How does our house become an illegal structure overnight with zero explanation or compensation?
FENG: In 2018, Chinese leader Xi Jinping ordered the destruction of more than 1,000 villas built on environmentally protected land in the Qinling Mountains. Since then, these demolitions have grown and have been folded into a larger anti-corruption crackdown. But there's a political cost - the loss of faith in the Communist Party leadership from influential members of China's private sector and even government cadres.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Through interpreter) I can't wrap my head around this. I never thought the Communist Party of China would treat us this way.
FENG: Others are adept at using the party's own language against it. One of them is Yang Yusheng, a law professor at China's state-run University of Political Science and Law. He argues defending his house is actually supporting the Communist Party's goals.
YANG YUSHENG: (Through interpreter) Xi Jinping's socialist thought is like a beautiful, fresh flower that must be allowed to bloom. The risk here through illegal demolitions is that the flower of Xi Jinping's thought instead grows poisonous fruits.
FENG: Other residents have draped their houses with Chinese flags and pasted copies of China's Constitution on their doors like political talismans to ward off destruction. Here's Yang again.
YANG: (Through interpreter) We are lawfully guarding our rightful property. This completely coincides with Xi Jinping's socialist thoughts on a rule-of-law society.
FENG: But Yang later admits that rule of law means nothing because the same government which sold him his house could also just take it away.
Emily Feng, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.