By Andrew Galbraith and Yawen Chen
Hundreds of demonstrators have marched through a shopping district in the Chinese city of Shanghai to protest against changes to housing regulations, in a rare show of public dissent in the financial hub.
Footage of the late Saturday protests shared on social media showed hundreds of demonstrators holding placards and shouting slogans while marching along Nanjing Road, a glitzy shopping strip in the city centre.
One video seen by Reuters showed police setting up blockades and dragging a demonstrator away. Media carried no reports of the demonstrations, while mentions of the protests on social media were scrubbed by internet censors.
Shanghai police did not respond to requests for comment.
Two witnesses told Reuters that about 10 of the protesters who were hoisting banners and appeared to be leading the demonstrations were taken away by police.
“One whole side of the street in front of the Apple store was filled with people,” said one nearby stall owner who declined to be identified, adding that the crowd gathered around 8 p.m. and dispersed by 10 p.m.
“The police came and took the leaders away.”
Protesters were angry about measures announced on May 17 by Shanghai’s housing bureau to “clean-up and rectify” commercial office projects that had been converted into apartments to cater for residential needs, in a grey area property developers previously exploited by acquiring land at cheaper prices than residential-zoned land.
The government measures, part of a bid to keep property speculation and soaring real estate prices in check, required developers and buyers to rectify violations such as separately installed toilets and kitchens before they are able to be sold on, effectively rendering them uninhabitable and worth a fraction of the purchase price.
Some homeowners felt aggrieved because they bought the apartments from developers off the plan, secured finance and locked themselves into a contract before being left stranded when the changes were announced.
Amid soaring prices, real estate purchases across Chinese cities often follow years of penny-pinching and the contribution of life savings from parents and grandparents. New property prices on average rose 26.5 per cent in Shanghai last year.
“They are shouting for their only home in Shanghai, bought by their whole family’s savings through legal means,” one person said of the protests in a Weibo post, which was later deleted.
A total of 17 million square metres of projects are targeted by the campaign, the Shanghai government said on its social media account, of which 5 million square metres have been delivered to buyers.
A list of developments affected by the campaign published by the Shanghai government on May 18 included property giant Greenland’s Fengshanghui development among four “typical” projects that needed rectification.
Protests, while still relatively rare in China, increasingly break out over contentious issues including the construction of garbage incinerators or pollution from factories near homes.