|Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT|
Land can be an elusive commodity in Beijing, the densely populated capital, but that proved no hurdle for a traditional Chinese medicine mogul who found enough space to construct a luxury villa - with mountainous landscapes - right in downtown Beijing.
He took advantage of an existing location by building his 800-square meter private home on the rooftop of a 26-story residential building, where he was reportedly living just below in a penthouse suite.
A piece of work that allegedly took six years to complete, the villa, spotted among rocks and bushes topping the building, the scene looks more like something one would expect to see protruding out from a seaside cliff.
Media reports on the unauthorized mansion have shown photos of the villa and highlighted complaints from neighbors, who were quoted as complaining for years about loud renovation work that caused building leaks due to damage done to the drainage system and noise from late-night parties held at the villa.
After numerous reports have made their rounds online, the public has titled the villa as "the most outrageous illegal structure" and ordinary Chinese people have been outraged by the monstrosity.
In response, Beijing's Haidian district urban management authorities issued a notice to the owner, giving him 15 days to tear the villa down or present evidence of its authorization. But it's still not enough to calm the angry public.
Amid skyrocketing property prices, which have forced many people to rent a dingy room or even just a mere bed in the city, the case is seen as another example of the country's wealthy disregarding the law to live their lavish lifestyles while others continue to struggle.
It's hit a raw nerve with the public, who have many questions and suspicions. How could such an eye-catching villa be allowed to exist for years despite repeated complaints from neighbors? And if it hadn't been for the headlines, would it still remain high in the sky?
The urban management authorities said that they were shut out every time they wanted to investigate the rooftop building after receiving complaints. But the explanation seems like more of a far-fetched excuse.
The owner of the villa has been exposed as a well-known figure in the field of traditional Chinese medicine and a self-claimed former member of the district's political advisory body.
Thus, a more accountable reason for how "the most outrageous illegal structure" could stand for so long must relate to weak law enforcement against aggressive violators.
In the face of strong public pressure, the owner, who initially responded arrogantly, has now relented, saying that he will comply with the order to take down the villa, adding that he plans to keep home construction projects more "low-key" in the future.
It seems to many that public pressure was the final motivator behind the official response and the owner's - with both parties wanting to avoid the wrath of the public. But it is a bitter-sweet victory.
While it's uplifting to see that the public's opinions carry weight in modern China, it's sad to see that rule of law is often not properly enforced until enough people make a fuss openly and loudly.
The case of the rooftop villa in Beijing is far from over. Some media outlets are keen to investigate the owner to see if he has abused his power in other ways.
Meanwhile, the story has since encouraged a number of other citizens to report on illegal constructions in their neighborhoods. But it would be impossible for the media to cover each and every one of these cases.
It's now up to the relevant authorities to take these reports seriously and do their jobs properly and honestly. The public should not be responsible for righting every societal wrong, but until the voices of the people are only required to compliment the enforcement of rules and regulations under the letter of the law, ordinary folks might still be held to this duty.
The author is a reporter with the Global Times.