Word of the week: chāi qiān
I still have a vivid memory of watching the Beijing Olympics on TV and seeing Usain Bolt storm to 100 metres victory in a new world record time. I also remember hearing a lot about people being forced out of their homes so new roads and infrastructure could be built for the games.
In Chinese they use the verb 拆迁 chāi qiān to mean “demolish a building and relocate the occupants”.
北京举办奥运会之前拆迁了很多房子 běi jīng jǔ bàn ào yùn huì zhī qián chāi qiān le hěn duō fáng zi (before the Olympic games were held in Beijing lots of buildings were demolished and the inhabitants relocated.)
这个老房子快要拆迁 zhè gè lǎo fáng zi kuài yào chāi qiān (This old building will soon be demolished.)
Judging by what I had read in the Western media I thought that this chāi qiān was a terrible thing. People are forced out of their homes and made to live elsewhere. I was therefore very surprised to hear that all the Chinese I spoke to actually think it’s a good thing and they hope it happens to them. Why?
For many Chinese people, particularly those living in old residential areas in the big cities, it seems chāi qiān is like winning the lottery. It could happen at any time, and when it does the government actually pays out compensation that is in excess of the value of the apartment.
One Chinese friend told me 我房子应该快要拆迁 wǒ fáng zi yīng gāi kuài yào chāi qiān (my flat should soon be demolished.) I said that must be a bad thing because the value of the apartment must be very low. After all, who would want to buy an apartment that could be forcibly demolished any year now? My friend laughed and basically said that a 拆迁房 chāi qiān fáng (a demolish and relocate home) would be hot property because it would be a great investment. In fact, his family can’t wait to cash in on their chāi qiān fáng and think it would be stupid to sell now.
Some buildings in China look quite deserving of chāi qiān
Basically, when the Chinese government chāi qiān they only do it to old buildings. They either offer the inhabitants a brand new apartment that is larger than the chāi qiān fáng or offer compensation that is greater than the value of the chāi qiān fáng. So it’s not always the evil act of government that it is made out to be in Western media.
The word 拆 chāi on its own literally means to take apart or demolish in an orderly way. 拆开 chāi kāi (literally “take apart and open”) could be used to electrics or machines. If you need to have your phone repaired than you will need to chāi kāi the phone (open it up) before you can repair it. This is not to be confused with 打开 dǎ kāi, which means to turn something on (like a TV) or to open something (like a book).