Qingdao demolishes ultra-luxury villas over environmental violations

Society & Culture

Authorities in Qingdao, a coastal city in China’s Shandong Province, have knocked down dozens of beachfront villas that were classified by the local government as illegal structures in violation of environmental regulations.

The large-scale demolition, which involved more than 40 ultra-luxury houses with a combined worth exceeding 2.5 billion yuan ($352 million), was brought to the public’s attention last week thanks to a video (in Chinese) of the properties being torn down, sparking speculation about the purpose of the action.

On March 25, the local government posted a statement (in Chinese) on Weibo saying that the houses were built in breach of rules protecting coastal areas. “The construction has caused a notable amount of damage to the area after rebuilding the coastline and backfilling materials,” the post reads.

The properties were part of a grand real estate project created by Taiwanese land developer Shining Group. Mostly known for its luxury hotel brand The Lalu, the company struck a high-profile deal with the Qingdao government in 2018, acquiring 140,000 square meters of undeveloped land located right off Fenghuang Hill. Completed in 2014, the project included high-end hotel The Lalu Qingdao and a total of 71 villas scattered on a peninsula.

Judging from the hotel’s descriptions on online travel sites, its location’s proximity to the ocean was a huge selling point for property buyers and customers. “In The Lalu Qingdao, all rooms are entitled as Sea View Suite and endowed with a decent size of 94 square meters. If the 180°seascape doesn’t inspire you enough, the soft sand, the grand rock, and the original abalone pool will definitely delight you with a raw taste of ocean,” reads an introduction on TripAdvisor.

According to local officials, the villas were destroyed with permission from their owners, who had received compensation based on the market value of their properties. Unsurprisingly, it’s reported that the affected residents were mostly big-business billionaires and pop stars. One of them was Fàn Bīngbīng 范冰冰, China’s highest-paid actress, who mysteriously disappeared from the public eye for several months in 2018 due to a tax scandal. Fan also appeared in a promotional video for The Lalu Qingdao, in which she says the house she purchased really “stood out” to her. “It’s so close to the ocean. You can dip our toes in the water right in front of the door,” she said.

Given the scope of the demolition and the cost it entailed, a large number of critical observers have expressed doubt (in Chinese) about how the construction was allowed in the first place. “The whole ordeal could have been avoided if the local government had taken action sooner,” a Weibo user wrote. Some also questioned the necessity and effectiveness of the demolition. “I’m all here for protecting coastal areas from pollution and degradation, but knocking down these beautiful buildings was such a waste of money and human resources. There must be a more innovative way to achieve the coexistence of the villas and the coastline, but apparently government officials wanted to solve the problem in the most simple way,” another Weibo user commented.