Illegal Rooftop Villa in Beijing Reveals China’s Culture of Impunity

  • Share
  • Read Later
Ng Han Guan / AP

A rooftop villa complete with rocks and flora stands on top of a high-rise residential building in Beijing

It was an abode worthy of a James Bond villain, but was ultimately bested by a foe slightly less charismatic than the British secret agent — Chinese planning regulations. The faux-rock villa complete with trees, patios and karaoke studio situated on a Beijing apartment-building roof will soon be torn down after a demolition order was issued by the city’s urban-management department. Zhang Biqing, who built the illegal 800-sq-m structure from plastic and resin, told the BBC on Tuesday that he would comply. However, critics allege that far from being merely an eccentric folly, the case demonstrates an ingrained culture of legal impunity for China’s wealthy elite.

That the craggy extension — sitting atop a 26-story building in the plush Park View residential compound in the Chinese capital’s Haidian district, amid government offices and universities — slowly took shape over six years has raised eyebrows. And then there is the owner: Zhang is a successful doctor of traditional Chinese medicine and former member of a district People’s Political Consultative Conference, a local political-advisory body. Reports in Chinese media claim that neighbors have long raised complaints about the structure, citing excessive construction noise as well as interference with shared pipes and other common amenities.

(PHOTOS: Vice Doesn’t Pay: 10 Scandalous Chinese Officials Who Landed With a Bump)

One retired civil servant TIME interviewed at Park View, who asked to remain anonymous as he still occasionally works there part time, put blame for the extension’s longevity firmly on the local authorities. “The government has not been doing its job,” he says. “You hear about houses being torn down all over the place and people being kicked out of their own homes, but in this case they have left it alone. Obviously he’s well connected.”

Other neighbors are more philosophical about the illegal structure. Wang, 60, lives on the 26th floor next to Zhang and told TIME that many people have already moved out of the block because of the disruption caused by Zhang’s kitsch folly. “He has money,” Wang says, “so he can do whatever he wants.”

Many Beijing residents have taken to China’s Twitter-like social-media service Weibo to register their objections. “If the chengguan [controversial urban law-enforcement officers] can spend every day watching street hawkers, then why couldn’t they see Zhang Biqing’s rooftop villa? Does law enforcement only look down, but not up?” asked one user.

Chinese people are growing increasingly sensitive to the perceived flamboyant lifestyles of government officials and their close associates. In addition, rising land prices mean property is seen as a quick route to make a fortune, and corner cutting often takes place. A developer in the central city of Hengyang recently built an illegal complex of 25 villas on top of a shopping center, but was later allowed to keep the houses provided he did not sell them. Similarly, a series of luxury rooftop courtyard houses atop the dragon-shaped Pangu Plaza, by Beijing’s iconic Bird’s Nest stadium, were initially ruled “illegal constructions” but have been allowed to remain after the constructor paid a fine and pledged they would be rented rather than sold.

However, it doesn’t appear that Zhang is in line for any such reprieve. An ultimatum to dismantle his pet project within 15 days or face forcible demolition was published in local media on Monday evening. While Zhang initially played down the two-story structure as “just an ornamental garden” when speaking to the Beijing Times, this dismissive attitude has now been replaced by measured contrition. But he still insists that his powerful connections have no bearing on the case. This has “nothing to do with the government, I don’t have any deal with them in private,” he told the BBC. “I’m not a princeling.”

— With reporting by Chengcheng Jiang / Beijing and Jennifer Cheng / Hong Kong

WATCH: Chinese Newborn Rescued From Sewer Pipe

34 comments
Dustin Miller
Dustin Miller

geez! They'll complain in Vancouver condo-complex if someone upstairs waters a petunia!

Roula Malouf
Roula Malouf

Looks like he's making a "green" roof Chinese style :) , shouldn't he be applauded for that?

oldwhiteguy
oldwhiteguy

China is slowly but surely experiencing growing pains: its environment, justice under the law, educational equality, access to health care, infrastructure, military spending to protect its newly gained wealth and a dozen other topics a society has to deal with. With growth comes responsibility, to other countries and to its own citizens. Labor becomes more expensive as everyone deserves a piece of the action. Politics become more contentious. Directions aren't so easy to discern. If its leadership thinks long-term and what's best for the most, it will prosper. If it's all about "I've got mine, screw you!" then trouble lies ahead. Pretty much the same dynamics we deal with.

Josh Gdn
Josh Gdn

My friend, Daragh Moller just shared this. He lived in this building!

Kevin Liu
Kevin Liu

middle finger to the gov too !

Paul Coggins
Paul Coggins

and this is why we have rules so we DO care

Ibo Thabo
Ibo Thabo

Instead western media explaining the stylishness & craftiness of Eastern engineers who are doing things like that, western media focus only on the small corrupt issue the thousands of Bernard Madoff already told us that is not insult in the west.

Adrian J Nyaoi
Adrian J Nyaoi

its a cultural thing; who care what the neighbor think. This become a very dangerous habit when it is translated to foreign affairs.

Marut_
Marut_

@TIME For west, earlier Russians were the boogeyman & now its chinese! so nice!

Krayde
Krayde

@TIME 'reveals' if you have been living under a rock maybe.

MiraalC
MiraalC

@TIME citizen it's your right to demand your necessities. They may not be status quo but why is that such a taboo?!

MiraalC
MiraalC

@TIME every time it's some wealthy person world media works against. Homes are basic necessities and if you've helped the country as a

MiraalC
MiraalC

@TIME I agree against china for most things but why is it so imperative to be strict for the wealthy? No poor man gets to be in news mags...

sushilpershad
sushilpershad

@TIME Shame !! From Oppression Of Communism To Impunity Of Capitalism !!

Damonaaron Seven Zikamarcum
Damonaaron Seven Zikamarcum

well Consider its worth saveing revamp it if china can buy all our debt then they most be able to spend some money and fix it up its a master piece

Pang Pang Sern Yong
Pang Pang Sern Yong

Time is only good at stirring up sinophobia. It really should cease publication like Newsweek.

Lu Con
Lu Con

Im surprised someone in nyc hasn't done this

Ed Williams
Ed Williams

Sorta like wall street big-wigs, no?

Eric Dixon
Eric Dixon

like i really want to point the finger at china when we have the same issues

rorywong654
rorywong654

It's not the structure,is the main concern.The concern is how come it takes six years before any legal action is taking.Finally people will desert  the communist government. If the government simply get the structure to be demolished without any investigation , the fall of the communist is not far away

818Digi
818Digi

@TIME @TIMEWorld isn't that everywhere? The wealthy can do as they please on the backs of the poor.

Sir_Gi
Sir_Gi

@TIME @TIMEWorld Is not necessary go to China to see this "Culture". In Spain also happens daily