The news has been dominated in recent days with stories relating to the somehow sudden discovery of a three-story villa covered in shrubbery sitting atop a 26-story building in western Beijing. Now, as construction (or rather, deconstruction) workers set about removing grapevines from atop the villa, the Beijing Times reports that the chengguan, China’s notoriously thuggish “urban management officers”, have adopted a softer approach to the man behind Beijing’s “most awesome illegal building”. Danwei readers will remember the chengguan for their recent killing of a melon vendor in Hunan. This time, according to the Beijing Times’ feature report, “the chengguan will not issue a fine as the villa owner has already commenced demolition.”
Rather than dealing with rooftop villa owner Zhang Biqing in the same manner that their counterparts in Hunan addressed the problems caused by the melon seller Deng Jiazheng, the Haidian district chengguan first phoned Zhang to tell him that his illegal building posed a serious threat to public security and also represented a dangerous fire hazard. They concluded their phone call by telling him that he must thoroughly and hastily demolish the “rooftop villa”, allowing him a 15-day window to complete this task. Zhang agreed to begin demolition, perhaps aware that he had done quite well in avoiding any chengguan visits in the five or six years since he first began piecing together his villa. A spokesperson for the chengguan said that Zhang Biqing would not face a fine or forcible demolition even if workers take more than 15 days to complete the task given that the process had already gotten underway. While it is not unheard of for people to return home from work to find the dreaded “拆” daubed upon their place of residence, the chengguan’s lenience in dealing with this extravagant violation of planning laws speaks to the privileges enjoyed by wealthy urbanites in China.
But while the Haidian chengguan have finally got round to dealing with the “rooftop villa” after several years of frequent complaints from Zhang’s neighbours, an investigation by reporters from the Beijing News has revealed two other haphazard rooftop constructions in the ironically-named Renji Mountain Village neighbourhood where Zhang Biqing’s monstrosity is located. Walking along a corridor on the 26th floor of Building 1, the “27th floor” appears in all its magnificence, “strewn with all kinds of decorations,” according to Beijing Times reporters. They were not able to make it up to the even more precarious 28th floor because it was undergoing refurbishment. Over on Building 2, journalists were blocked from entering the apartment leading to the 27th and 28th floors, which were constructed in 2006 on what was once a public balcony. According to reports, the owner even built a rock-climbing wall atop the extension, causing local residents to worry that the building may finally have become top-heavy. When asked by Beijing Times reporters for a comment, the Haidian chengguan spokesperson said only that investigations are being carried out.
While the chengguan have been reluctant to deal with the illegal construction in this western Beijing neighbourhood, Renji Mountain Village has become a meeting point for residents from across Beijing who have had to put up with illegal construction work across the hallway. Ms. Liu, who came from Pingyuanli in Beijing’s Xicheng district, said of Zhang Biqing’s illegal building, “It really is a marvellous villa, atmospheric and luxurious. The illegal building in my neighbourhood pales in comparison.” Letting out a sigh, Liu said that the construction of an illegal extension in her building meant that water often leaked into her apartment so much that it looked similar to the famous Water Curtain Cave. She said, “We’ve gone to property management and the chengguan about this, but nothing has ever been done about it.”