"I told a government official that forced demolition would lead to someone's death," Waiqing says. "He replied, 'If someone dies because of this, the government will provide compensation and it has the money to do so.'" Local Officials: Self-Immolation A 'Ploy' In self-immolation cases, governments are sometimes willing to spend large sums to compensate families for the death of their loved ones and, perhaps, shut them up in the process. That was the case with a 47-year-old woman named Zhou Lijun, who lit herself on fire in May to protest demolition of her home for redevelopment in another section of Hunan. Government officials eventually paid the family more than $570,000 to compensate for her death, her brother, Zhou Haijun, said in a phone interview. People gathered at the He family home react as He Mengqing LED Panel Light himself on fire on the day his house was set to be demolished.

By Chinese standards, the sum is staggering. After receiving compensation, the family members of those who have self-immolated are often much more reluctant to speak to reporters. The Chenzhou government blocked official news of He Mengqing's self-immolation. Family members say a local TV station covered the story, but it ran only once and is nowhere to be found on the station's website. They also posted videos of their scuffles with police and He's self-immolation on Chinese microblogs, but censors deleted them. In a statement to NPR, Chenzhou officials said He's house was illegal, that he demanded more than $600,000 in compensation, and that his wife urged him to light himself on fire. The statement did not express any regret. He's wife, Huang Xiaoying, denies the government's claims. Radio Free Asia, which first reported the story, interviewed an unnamed official who said the self-immolation was really just a ploy to get more money. "The common people want to get extremely rich through home demolition.

They want generations to benefit," the official said in a phone interview. "That's impossible." Homeowners Feel Angry, Helpless A report last year by Amnesty International showed that between January 2009 and January 2012 to protest home demolition. Corinna-Barbara Francis, Amnesty's China researcher, says they weren't driven by greed, but desperation. "I think they've come to the end of their rope," she says. "Many of them, we know, have tried to work through the system. That has failed. They've been neglected. They've been abused." Apartment blocks rise in Chenzhou, where the government is building a new city with an industrial park to develop the economy and urbanize the area. Yan Shiming felt that way. He used to farm rice and mushrooms in Hunan province. In March 2011, construction workers came to knock down his home to make way for apartment buildings. Yan had filed administrative lawsuits, which went nowhere. He doused himself with gas. He said he felt angry and helpless. "The courts and the law are of no use to us," Yan told China's Southern Metropolis newspaper. "We went to Beijing to appeal to higher authorities for help.

The police wouldn't protect us. We were taken to a local police station and beaten up by the policemen." Yan never lit himself on fire. Officials stopped him, but the level of frustration he felt toward local government is common. Perhaps no one has illustrated that frustration more graphically in recent months than Zheng Guocun. Zheng ran an animal feed store in Bei An, a city in northeast China's Heilongjiang province, a few hours by car from the Russian border. Local officials wanted to demolish Zheng's home and store to clear the way for apartment buildings. After Zheng turned down a compensation package, hired thugs dragged him from his home one night in late June and beat him while construction workers knocked down his house and store.