And Finally

Grapes of wrath

China’s most controversial rooftop garden

Louding w

The neighbours don’t approve

A few months ago a red banner started to appear in the narrow alleyways that criss-cross Beijing’s hutong districts – the traditional courtyard homes increasingly endangered by bulldozing and redevelopment in the capital.

“Resolutely oppose the building of illegal structures,” it read.

A few weeks later, municipal employees with sledgehammers and shovels descended on one such area. As WiC watched, they systematically removed all of the extensions residents had built to house small kitchens and bathrooms.

But around the same time, an illegal structure of a different magnitude in the north of the city was starting to make the headlines.

For six years the residents of the Park View residential compound in Haidian district had protested to every authority they could think of about the mountain lair that a billionaire acupuncturist was constructing on their roof. The weight of the ersatz pile of rock, glass and steel was generating cracks in the building’s structure, they complained, and causing water to pour down interior walls.

Then in early August netizens posted several pictures of the illegal eyrie online, and news of the crazy structure spread around the world.

The rockpile’s creator and owner Zhang Biqing – who resides on the top floor of the building – then tried to defend it from a number of angles, saying it was an expression of Chinese culture, claiming it provided good insulation, and classifyng it as a ‘grape trellis’. But the case became an embarrassment  for the authorities, and on August 12 they issued a demolition notice that gave Zhang 15 days to remove it.

With less than five days to go, however, local media is reporting that Zhang has done little more than remove some of the bamboo he uses to host his grape vines.

Zhang may be hoping that by dragging his heels he can ride out the public attention and hold on to his folly. That might have happened in the past, but unfortunately for Zhang, Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive has empowered ordinary citizens to call foul when they see it – especially online. The fact that Zhang was a member of the local Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference is now more likely to count against him, as will his earlier boast that “famous people come here to sing”, made in reference to his in-house karaoke studio.

In order to satisfy public interest in what netizens are dubbing “China’s most awesome illegal structure”, Sina Weibo has set up a live feed to monitor the building and at least once has sent up a drone to check on the progress of the demolition.

Previously, Zhang is said to have barred municipal officials from inspecting the property – the reason given for not issuing a demolition notice earlier.

“If the urban enforcement officers can spend every day watching street hawkers, then why couldn’t they see Zhang Biqing’s rooftop villa?” asked one netizen, before answering her own question.

“Could it be that law enforcement only looks down, but not up?”


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