Our beautiful home overlooking Green Lake Park is no more.
On Christmas Day it was leveled without compensation.
Neighbors who arrived to document the destruction were detained by policy, cell phones pried from their hands.
Earlier in the month, I sent the following to the Provincial foreign affairs office.
I am still awaiting an answer:
Mr. Li Jiming (李极明)
Director, Foreign Affairs Office
Yunnan Provincial Government
Kunming, Yunnan, China
Dear Mr. Li:
I am writing as a long-time friend of Yunnan and resident of Kunming.
I first arrived in Kunming in 1980 as Yunnan’s
first American exchange scholar since Liberation.
With the help of my host organization, Kunming Teachers College (now Yunnan Normal University), I conducted research for my book, Lianda: A Chinese University in War and Revolution (Stanford University Press 1998), translated as 抗战与革命中的西南联大 （九州出版社 2012）.
During my four months in Yunnan’s capital, I fell in love with the city and came to regard it as my Chinese home.
Looking forward to spending our senior years next to our beloved Green Lake Park, in December 2006 my wife and I purchased an apartment at翠湖南路南路61号二栋3单元202号 .
During a decade in residence, we introduced countless foreign friends to the charms of Spring City.
Beginning in the summer of 2013, our neighborhood became the focus for a major development project. Adjacent buildings began to tumble and the 拆迁办[lit: Tear-It-Down-and-Move-Them-Out Office] took control of our compound. With living conditions increasingly chaotic, we became a target for thieves and vandals.
In December 2013 a burglar broke into our apartment, entered our bedroom, and stole electronic devices from the night table next to the bed where I was sleeping. This incident destroyed our sense of security. By 2017 our water and electricity had been cut off and we had no choice but to rent temporary quarters (which have recently been burglarized as well).
At no time during these four years of destruction and chaos did any official approach us to discuss our personal safety and security or to offer fair compensation for our property.
Not until July 2017 did officials ask to meet with us to discuss resolution of these issues.
During our discussion, we made it clear that we were fully prepared to settle if we were offered a sum that would cover the costs of moving and buying a comparable residence in the Green Lake neighborhood.
We asking nothing for four years of inconvenience, mental anguish, physical burdens, and emotional stress.
At the behest of local officials, we located a similar-sized apartment not far from our old residence. Though this place was by no means as nice as our former abode, we agreed that we would accept a settlement that covered the price of the new dwelling, renovation costs, taxes, and expenses incurred in moving. Through our拆迁办 contact Mr. Yan, we reiterated our willingness to come to an agreement. We made it clear that we would be available to talk any time prior to mid-August, when my wife would resume teaching duties at the Georgia Institution of Technology in Atlanta.
We would not return to Kunming until late April 2018.
Having received no reply, we returned home.
We remained in contact with Mr. Yan and with the realtor representing the apartment we hoped to purchase.
Still no official response.
A few days ago we learned that the 防盗门 [heavy duty security door] on our apartment had been removed, and our windows smashed.
The local police informed us that this was the doing of the 拆迁办.
Mr. Yan confirmed this fact, though he attributed the destruction to workmen’s unauthorized action. To us, this gratuitous act of vandalism had all the earmarks of a shameless attempt to intimidate us into acquiescence by threatening the destruction of our property in lieu of a proper settlement.
For any resident of Kunming – Chinese or foreign – to be subjected to this kind of treatment is outrageous – and totally contrary to policy laid down by China’s Central Authorities.
For a foreign friend who has devoted nearly four decades to promoting friendship and good will with his adoptive city, it is heart-breaking.
Knowing that your office is firmly committed to “做文明有礼昆明人建设区域性国际中心城市” [“As Cultivated and Enlightened Kunmingers, Build a Regional International Kunming” – Kunming wall poster in Cuihu Park plaza next to 61 Cuihu Beilu, photo available], I seek your help in resolving this unfortunate situation, paving the way for a true friend of Kunming’s to spend his last years fulfilling his 中国梦[China Dream] in the city he loves.
With appreciation for your assistance!
John Israel （易社强）
Professor Emeritus, University of Virginia