Academic journal article China Perspectives

Homeowners of Beijing, Unite! the Construction of a Collective Mobilisation

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Homeowners of Beijing, Unite! the Construction of a Collective Mobilisation

Article excerpt

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Introduction

At the beginning of 2007, shortly before the Property Law (Wuquan fa ...) was to be adopted by the National People's Congress, a citizens' petition brought the voice of homeowners to the forefront. Attracting more than 180,000 signatures, it called for certain articles of the law to be revisited in the name of the rights and interests of homeowners. In a highly symbolic move at the beginning of 2010, more than 200 homeowners from Chinese cities came together at the National People's Congress as part of the official launch of a "platform" aiming to coordinate the various actors in "neighbourhood communities." (1) These two events illustrate the appearance of a new "social figure": the homeowner (yezhu ...), linked to housing reform taking place in urban China since the mid-1990s. They also reflect the extent to which the deep spatial and social reconfigurations affecting Chinese cities since the mid-1990s and, in particular, during the 2000s, have given rise to many channels through which contestations and calls for recognition linked to the question of housing are expressed. These include protests against the destruction of entire neighbourhoods and the brutal expulsion and relocation imposed on their inhabitants, mobilisations in new residences to defend the rights of homeowners against property developers and the local authorities, and finally collective actions in order to win recognition in the newly created "neighbourhood communities" of new "intermediate actors": homeowners' committees (yezhu weiyuanhui ...). Above all, their national and symbolic dimension shows that although conflicts concerning housing are often local affairs that are tied in with a specific situation, some actors attempt to reach beyond these territorial boundaries to unify different interests and claims.

By studying the attempt to form a "federation" of homeowners' committees in the city of Beijing, this article recounts and analyses the various steps taken to construct a collective mobilisation. Why and how have homeowners living in different neighbourhoods of Beijing joined forces? (2) How have they constructed and drawn up collective claims based on the definition of a common interest? What strategies have they developed to mobilise and encourage other homeowners to join their movement? Finally, in an uncertain context in which any attempt to form an association may be considered suspicious by representatives of the one-party state, (3) how have they drafted their demands to the authorities in order to make them acceptable without neutralising their impact?

Founded in 2006 by several homeowners' committee leaders, the yeshenwei (...) - shortened from Beijing shi yezhu weiyuanhui xiehui de shenban weiyuanhui (...) or "Application committee requesting authorisation for a federation of the homeowners' committees of Beijing" in English - is seeking, as its name suggests, to obtain the official creation and recognition of a new body to represent homeowners at the municipal level. This is a relatively rare experiment in China, because as far as we are aware, only one other equivalent association has been formed, in Guangzhou. (4) This movement-organisation is not only aiming to win official recognition, but will also attempt to develop its legitimacy and strengthen its capacities through a certain number of actions that need to be described for a better understanding of the stakes involved. A number of events or "collective action situations" (5) will therefore be looked at, including the creation of this "application committee" in 2006, the petition to revise the Property Law launched in 2007, the organisation of "training classes" (peixunban ...) for homeowners in 2009, and the process of drawing up new local regulations in Beijing in 2010.

This sociological investigation was carried out as part of a post-doctoral study completed in the Sociology Department of Tsinghua University in 2009-2010 within the research team directed by Mrs. …

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