A migrant worker from the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi who returned home for Chinese New Year to find his ancestral home demolished remains in critical condition this after setting fire to himself, his relatives said on Friday.
Hu Tengping arrived at his home--like hundreds of millions of Chinese--in time to celebrate the Year of the Snake with a traditional family get-together on Jan. 29, according to a rights activist from his hometown of Xinyu city.
But Hu's ancestral home in Xinyu's Zhoukang village had been razed to the ground in his absence and his family forcibly evicted.
While some 100,000 yuan (U.S. $16,000) in intended compensation had been paid directly to his bank account in his absence, Hu's shock was enough to prompt him to douse himself in petrol and set himself ablaze, rights activist Liu Xizhen said on Friday.
"By the time [I] heard about it, he was already in the hospital," she said. "He was very severely burned. Only the top of his head and the soles of his feet were unscathed."
"His family, including his wife and those closest to him, are watching over him," Liu added.
Hu's niece confirmed that her uncle had suffered severe burns over 95 percent of his body, had undergone surgery on Thursday, and was still in intensive care at the Xingang Center Hospital in Xinyu city.
"He is still in a critical condition," she said. "He is only semiconscious."
Hu's niece, also surnamed Hu, said her uncle was currently undergoing surgery every four or five days.
"When things like this happen, you'd think they would care more about what happens to ordinary people like us," she said. "They just knocked down my uncle's entire house."
Liu said she had tried to visit Hu at the hospital along with two fellow activists, but were turned away by security personnel at the hospital entrance.
"We weren't able to get in," she said. "The local village-level government had posted more than a dozen people there, watching the whole area."
"We tried to get in by posing as a married couple, but they surrounded us and asked us what we were doing. We said we wanted to visit a patient and they asked who it was, and then they stopped us."
Calls to the Xingang Center Hospital and to the Xinyu municipal police department went unanswered during office hours on Friday.
Calls to the Xinyu municipal government offices resulted in a repeated busy signal.
On Jan. 23, a man protesting forced eviction from his home in the eastern province of Shandong set himself on fire in front of government advisers during a parliamentary meeting.
Violent forced evictions, often resulting in deaths and injuries, continue to rise in China as cash-strapped local governments team up with development companies to grab property in a bid to boost revenue, according to a recent report by rights group Amnesty International.
Amnesty International collected reports of 41 cases of self-immolation from 2009 to 2011 alone due to forced evictions. That compares to fewer than 10 cases reported in the entire previous decade.
Nearly half of all rural residents have had land forcibly taken from them, with the number of cases on the rise, according to a 2011 study by the Landesa Rural Development Institute.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.