Home is Where the House Was – 100th Post

Change comes harder for some than for others. This woman sat in the way of a excavator scooping land in front of her home. Other family members were screaming at the workers who seemed quiet and remorseful but who called in the police to resolve the issue. I sat and waited with her, her family, and a gathering crowd of workers. When the police arrived the attention turned to the foreigner with a camera. The police came to me and signaled something about an ID. I assumed they meant a press identification, so I played dumb and handed them my passport. After looking through all the pages twice, they handed back my passport and said, “no photos.” In a city where English is rarely spoken, I’ve heard the words “no photos” often.
From what I could gather, the woman and her family were irate about how the road construction had destroyed part of their home. The police were brought into the house to show the damage. On the wall of her home reads “Danger. Don’t Get Close!”

Posted July 17th, 2007 in Uncategorized.


  1. Robbyn:


    I am enjoying your Beijing posts immensely. After being there last summer, and having the OU film grad student with us who is from Beijing, you are capturing many images of sentiments that Haitao expressed verbally.

    I linked to your blog on my blog. You may get some random comments from people you don’t know.

    Robbyn (David M’s wife–you’ll see him next week!)

  2. susan engler:

    Jim, I felt so sad for this woman….and I feel you are really connecting to something important here…..keep up the good work! We miss you!! Got our first radishes out of your beautiful garden! love, susan (your mom-in-law)

  3. Paul:

    You better watch out for those Chinese authorities they’ll have you behind bars eating Lassie on a stick and drinking tea strained through an old pair of tighty whities before you can say Mao sells sea shells by the sea shore.

  4. Paul:

    What is the Chinese process for developers? Are there town meetings? Are things built for the greater good? (Eminent Domain)

  5. garyoke:

    I too liked these pictures – there’s a lot more narrative in them.

    China has been merciless in its use of what we call eminent domain – peasants have been forced off their land for centuries.

    The modern, capitalist markets have lead to large sections of old Beijing being razed in preparation for the Olympic games. Little has been spared the wrath of the roaming Daewoo ‘dozers – sites as meaningful as the old Beijing Opera house have been obliterated.

    Small surprise that the world had to vote on a new set of 7 wonders. Wonder what’ll happen to these wonders.

  6. Jim Korpi:

    Not sure about town meetings in Beijing. It’s commmunism. ALthough they did pass some private property laws in March. Not sure what that means for all those who have been living in property for years. Can they now own it? Some think this is just another move of the politicians to grab as big of a piece of the pie as they can now.
    Eminent domain seems to be seriously enforced here, and truthfully I don’t know what to think about it. People want develpment in Western terms and the government seems to be making efficient moves to do just that. Whether the moves are for the better of the people, haven’t the slightest. But it is sad to see these old neighborhoods crumble.

  7. psa:

    I am with Paul…watch yourself. I don’t want to have to save the world by day and save Jim by night. 🙂

  8. POPs:

    Eminent domain I didn’t think that this was a world wide problem?
    Putting people out on the streets to put in shopping mall ect.
    Keep up the GREAT WORK looking forward to up coming work Be Careful!

  9. Lau:

    Hey this non-native english speaker doesnt really get the meaning of ’eminent domain’. Have been trying to figure it out, but am not sure I perfectly understand.

    And I have faith Jim will be careful; but as a person who makes images, especially in non-western countries, some small risks have to be taken. Otherwise you might never get the real story.

  10. psa:


    “Eminent domain is the inherent power of the state to seize a citizen’s private property, expropriate private property, or rights in private property, without the owner’s consent. The property is taken either for government use or by delegation to third parties who will devote it to “public use.” The most common uses of property taken by eminent domain are public utilities, highways, and railroads.” – from wikipedia

    Esentially the government takes your property and you have no say in the matter. In the US, the government usually provides “fair market value” as compensation.

  11. Paul:

    I don’t think that it is purely about the capitalists taking advantage of the disenfranchised. I think that it is more the deadly cocktail of opportunistic capitalists mixed with a corrupt communist government with visions of dollar signs (or yuan signs)running through their heads. Capitalists still need the power of the government to remove people from their homes.

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