[BEIJING] Chinese police are investigating reports that middle-aged women were paid 200 yuan (US$32) each to demolish homes for a new development, a government official said on Thursday, sparking anger about one of the country's most common causes of unrest.
Forced demolitions are a frequent trigger of anger in China, with local governments and developers are often accused of using thugs to carry out demolition orders and of not paying proper compensation.
The "auntie demolition team", as described by the state-run China News Service, harassed residents and destroyed doors and windows in the city of Shangqiu in central Henan province in early January. There were twenty women in the team and each was paid about 200 yuan.
Pictures online showed white-haired women brandishing sticks in what appeared to be a building.
"The case has been put on file and the public security department is investigating now. The final result is not out yet," an official with the Zhecheng government told Reuters by telephone.
The official declined to be named as he was not allowed to speak to foreign media. Zhecheng administers Shangqiu.
The residents had not agreed on compensation for their homes, which are due for demolition and development.
"During a cold night, a man in his 60s curled up amid the rubble. He had no choice but to call the police," the report said.
The incident comes a month after a similar case in poor and populous Henan, where workers tasked with demolishing homes for a new development threatened to infect residents with AIDS if they did not move out.
The term "auntie demolition team in Henan" was among the most searched topics on Weibo, China's version of Twitter. Many denounced the women for being "pathetic".
In China, older women or aunties are known as "dama" - a term that evokes images of a large group of middle-aged women dancing in public areas to loud music. Their activity has prompted complaints by other annoyed residents and led to clashes.
"Perhaps you should go back to dancing," wrote a microblogger on Weibo.