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02/01/2006

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Date Posted: 10:34 30/10/2003



Demolitions and hatchet jobs

Development has its casualties, including the lawyer, Zheng Enchong


THE GOVERNMENT has clearly been irked by the recent press coverage given to the case of Zheng Enchong, a lawyer sentenced to three years in prison this week. His crime was the 'disclosure of state secrets' to foreigners, a catch-all offense that is usually deployed to conceal the various embarassments or acts of grand larceny perpetrated by those in positions of power. What he actually did, according to the foreign reports, was to help a number of Shanghai residents defend themselves against the machinations of a filthy-rich real estate tycoon, Zhou Zhengyi, himself at the centre of corruption allegations and believed to be well-connected to ex-Party chief Jiang Zemin's Shanghai faction, including the current city Communist boss, Chen Liangyu.

Considerable media attention has been given to the relocation of over a million peasants from the Three Gorges region, but every large-scale project – every power plant or petrochemical complex, every high-rise or urban beautification scheme, every deforestation or reforestation – involves the same shifts of population, the same scramble for land and property, the same struggles for legal recognition and compensation, and it is clear that millions have been tossed aside. Some victims have even taken to immolating themselves on Tiananmen Square.

Here in Shanghai, everyone seems to know someone who has been forced out of a building that has housed his or her family for a century. It is no coincidence that the cream of China's rich list are involved in real estate. The slash, burn and build policy that prevails in most of the country's metropolises has provided those in the know – and in possession of the right contacts - with risk-free investment opportunities, underwritten by the state. Everywhere you look, Soviet-era concrete tower blocks have given way to sparkling, sci-fi skylines, all in just over two decades.

Everywhere, development has its casualties, and Zheng Enchong chose to draw attention to one particular case. And thus, out came the local media lickspittles, prompted by who-knows-whom to deliver a brutal hatchet job on this 'obscure, undistinguished' legal hack, this 'so-called self-proclaimed hero against corruption', who has been so woefully misrepresented by the foreign press. According to the report on the China News Service, Zheng had even been suspended after being charged with irregularities, and officially was no longer a lawyer at all. 'This self-proclaimed 'plaintiff for the people' had found various pretexts to demand payments… He was himself of dubious morals.' He used the Zhou Zhengyi case to puff up his own reputation. However, if - as the article claims - he was 'completely ignorant' of the real situation, and had acquired no information pertinent to the prosecution of Zhou, one does wonder why he was convicted of revealing state secrets.

But so it goes on. Running Dog is unaware of the precise virtues or shortcomings of the lawyer in question, but it seems very clear that the murky underbelly of the Shanghai real estate industry would not bear the sort of vicious and sustained scrutiny meted out upon Zheng Enchong. That, presumably, is why it all remains a state secret.

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