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The Reach of the State: Work Units, Family Ties and “Harmonious Demolition”

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When faced with homeowners who refuse to accept appropriation of their property, local authorities often use family ties to extend the state’s reach. To complete urban renewal, municipal demolition offices turn to resisters’ relatives who work for government bureaus, state-owned factories, schools and hospitals. Under pressure and the threat of sanctions, many work-unit members agree to pressure their relatives into signing demolition agreements, often by tapping into “feelings of affection” and emotional blackmail. Beyond emptying a neighborhood, “harmonious demolition” has many consequences: it can turn relatives against each other, lead to divorce, and produce disillusionment and anger. Although “demolition by implicating family members” was banned in 2010, it continues. Using vertical ties to pressure unit members and horizontal ties to influence relatives does not herald a softer authoritarianism, but instead alienates homeowners and work-unit members alike.

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