Wasatch Savage: Homeward burned

In an effort to urbanize China, the government has begun to force villagers out of their homes and off their farms to make room for urban developments. Chinese villagers are having their livelihoods threatened. They’re resorting to desperate measures as means to respond to the way their government is treating them. Many villagers have protested this expansion by blocking the heavy demolition machinery set to destroy their homes. No act of resistance is quite as saddening and gruesome as the self-immolation that has become a common occurrence in the urbanization of rural China. Since 2009, human rights groups and news reports show a staggering 53 instances of people who have self-immolated in China due to the destruction of their homes.

For those of you who, like me, had the plush ignorance of not being exposed to the concept of self-immolation prior, self-immolation refers to setting oneself on fire, often as a form of protest or for purposes of martyrdom. In most instances, the oppressing hand of government tends to be the primary cause of these self-burnings. This is a widespread phenomenon; throughout history there have been instances from all over the world. The most recent occurrence to hit the headlines was the self-immolation of He Mengqing. His home, located in south-central China’s Hunan province, was set to be demolished to make room for a park. He was 42 years old and had been a farmer his whole life. He knew no other means to make a living. The Chinese government offered him a slim $33,000 to take his land and his home. He had a family that depended on him to provide and protect them. His government expected him to convert to an urban lifestyle after he was well into his 40s and had no degree. It’s tough to imagine He finding a way to provide for his family in a competitive job market with no prior experience beyond farming.

Now, let me be clear: He Mengqing is not a man who wanted to kill himself. He Mengqing is a man who was so desperate to continue his way of life that, when faced with the idea of it being taken away from him, his will to live was taken too.

A video has surfaced of He’s self-immolation. His family appears in a frenzy outside his home while a blast of flames erupts within the home that led to his eventual death. As smoke billows out of the window, you can better understand the terror of the situation through the paralyzing cries of his family.

An unnamed local official said his self-immolation was a ploy to get more money for his farmhouse. The source said, “The common people want to get extremely rich through home demolition. They want generations to benefit . . . That’s impossible.” The most disgusting part of this statement is that this local official sees an issue with the villagers desiring more compensation for their livelihoods, rather than an issue with the demolition of their homes.

This isn’t just demolition — it’s dehumanization, and it’s happening in China right now. These villagers are being displaced and left with no means to provide for their families. I hope you understand what it means next time you read “made in China.” If you force a person out of their life, you force the life out of that person.