By Zhang Chen, Gou Xinyu
Published: 2008-01-25

Nation, page 10-11, issue no. 350, Jan 14th 2008
Abridged translation by Zuo Maohong
Original article:

From a dust-covered bookshelf, Li Yulan picks up a stack of legal material and shows them to the reporter. It is reminiscent of a time when she hoped that studying the law would help her find a way out.

"All useless, all in vain!" Li laments.

Li, a previously unknown artist living in a quaint Beijing suburb, has been swamped with media attention after her purchase of rural property in 2002 was declared invalid by a court this past July. Watching her appeal anxiously are two hundred other artists who may face the same consequences themselves. The stream of disputes now popping up in Songzhuang highlight increasing demand in China for clarification and reform of previous laws dealing with rural property rights.

Finding a Home, Buying a House
Holding her ten-month old daughter in her arms, Li Yulan repeats her story over and over again to reporters who have come to interview her.

Back in early 1990s, Li left her hometown, Handan of Hebei province, for Beijing. Like other beipiaos, a term describing those coming from all over China to work and live in Beijing, Li had floated from one place to another ever since she arrived here. "I can't remember exactly how many places I've lived in," she says, "I kept moving. It was annoying."

Fed up with the wanderer's life, Li suddenly saw her future in Songzhuang after learning about the town in east Beijing's Tongzhou district in 2002.

"The very reason why artists chose Songzhuang as a home is that the town is far from the hustle and bustle of urban life. It was also a time when a batch of farmers quit farming, became urban residents, and left their homes vacant. Several bold farmers then looked around for buyers," says Yang Dawei, one artist.

On July 1st 2002, Li and Ma Haitao signed an agreement settling Li's purchase of Ma's eight-room house and yard in Songzhuang from for 45,000 yuan.

After full payment was made, Ma promised he would never regret his decision. "The price was above the average at that time," Li explains, adding that the house was dilapidated; one of the girders was broken, the floor had sunk, and rampant weeds were clustered in the yard.

Despite this, Li and her husband were thrilled about the new place. The house was later renovated and re-fitted: three more wing-rooms and a washroom were built, a pond was dug, and flowers were planted in the yard.
Life was hopeful to Li then. And finding herself pregnant in 2006, Li couldn't feel happier. But this was also the year her troubles began.

Thirteen Artists Sued
In fact, Li was not the first Songzhuang artist to be sued by a former landowner. The first was 57-year-old artist Wang Lize.

In 2003, Wang bought a house in Songzhuang from his friend Xu Renbo, also an artist, at 66,000 yuan. When the house first traded hands in 1999 from a local called Zhang Jianli to Xu, the price was around 20,000 yuan.

After the purchase, Wang also renovated the house.

 1  |  2  |  3