Authorities in the northeastern Chinese city of Changchun have detained the manager of a demolition company after a 50-year-old protester was crushed during demolitions at a film studio renowned for its revolutionary movies.
Liu Shuxian, 50, died at the weekend during the demolition of the No.4 accommodation block at the Changchun Film Studios, which began at around 11 p.m. on Saturday when more than 20 earth-movers manned by more than 100 demolition crew arrived at the building.
The demolition gang removed a group of holdout evictees from the site before continuing to demolish the building, leaving Liu trapped inside.
"I cannot get out," she told a friend in a phone call made shortly before her death. Liu's body was dug out on Monday after her family called the police.
Wang Haibin, manager of the Changchun Donglin Demolition Co., was formally detained by police on suspicion of "illegal demolitions" leading to the death of evictee Liu Shuxiang, official media reported on Thursday.
Mobile phone footage shot during the demolition work and later posted on the Sina video-sharing site showed scuffles and altercations between former residents and unidentified men.
"Why are you demolishing our homes?" asks one woman, who is answered by one of the men, apparently part of the demolition gang.
"We have to demolish your homes today," replies the man. "What do you mean, forced demolition? We told you we were going to demolish it."
"You have no court demolition order, so on what basis are you demolishing our homes?" the woman says.
Netizens reacted with shock and outrage at the news.
"Look at this: they have dug out Liu Shuxiang's body," wrote user @liqinghaiV on the popular microblogging service Sina Weibo.
"Blood-stained forced evictions!" commented another, @wojiuailancao.
"All mortgage-slaves in China will share the same fate in 70 years' time," wrote user @xuqingan, in an apparent reference to recent changes in property ownership rules.
In January, authorities in Shanghai issued a new set of rules for evictions and demolition of residential properties, limiting the time period for which compensation is payable to evictees to 70 years.
After 70 years, property owners in the fast-developing city will lose any right to be compensated for their lost homes if they are demolished to make way for redevelopment.
An employee who answered the phone at the Changchun Film Studios on Wednesday declined to comment on the incident.
"I don't know about this," the employee said. "I don't know, sorry."
Beijing-based constitutional scholar Chen Yongmiao said it was highly ironic that Liu's death had happened at a film studio once renowned for its revolutionary films depicting the rise of the oppressed Chinese people.
"We all grew up watching revolutionary movies from the Changchun film studios," Chen said. "The biggest irony is that ... it has followed China's fortunes exactly, from collectivization and state ownership, to privatization and forced evictions."
"The incident is a sort of tragic joke of history," he said.
Private property enjoys theoretical protection under China's Constitution, but the ultimate ownership of land in China still rests with the state.
Residents often complain that existing leasehold contracts are flouted by local officials and developers keen to swell revenue coffers with lucrative land deals.
China already sees thousands of "mass incidents" across the country every year, according to official statistics, many of which are protests or sit-ins linked to forced evictions, allegations of corruption, and disputes over rural land sales.
Reported by Ding Xiao for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.