Taking Property in China:

As bad as things are with eminent domain in this country, it's much worse in China, as shown in this Boston Globe/LA Times article on the government's forcible displacement of people to build subway lines in Shanghai:

In China, labor is cheap, the land belongs to the government . . . and political pressure moves largely in one direction - from the Communist Party leadership on down.

"If the government wants to do something, even if the conditions are not ready for it, it will be done," said Zheng Shiling, a Chinese architect who teaches at Tongji University in Shanghai.

The system essentially works like this: Planners draw subway lines on a map. Party officials approve them. Construction begins. If anything is in the way, it is moved.

If they need to, Chinese planners "just move 10,000 people out of the way," said Lee Schipper, a transportation planner who has worked with several Chinese cities as director of research for Embarq, a Washington-based transportation think tank. "They don't have hearings."

The article claims that most of those displaced don't mind:

What is striking in Shanghai is how few people seem to mind this upheaval, in part because the city has dramatically improved the compensation it provides to dislocated people and businesses, and in part because residents accept the idea that the subway represents the greater good for the city.

Perhaps Shanghai residents really don't "mind" being forcibly uprooted from their homes for "the greater good" as defined by "the Communist party leadership." But I suspect that their lack of protest has something to do with the fact that China is an authoritarian state where speaking out against the government can lead to severe punishment. As I explained in more detail in this post, it is a major mistake for Western journalists to take expressions of support for government policy in repressive societies at face value. Unfortunately, LA Times reporter Mitchell Landsberg joins a long line of reporters who have fallen into this trap. At this late date, there's really no excuse for it.

UPDATE: Some commenters point out that there have been many protests over land seizures in China, and that the protesters are not always punished. True enough. However, in many cases, the protesters do get arrested or even killed by the authorities (see, e.g., here and here). The threat of arrest or (in rarer instances) death surely deters some victims of land seizure from protesting, even if such punishment is not absolutely certain to occur. I suspect that even a small chance of imprisonment or death is likely to persuade many people to keep their criticisms of government policy to themselves.

UPDATE #2: It is important to emphasize that large-scale takings of homes are not unusal in China. According to this Asia Times article, some 40 million Chinese have forcibly displaced by development projects in recent years, in rural areas alone.