Saturday, September 24, 2011

Farmers in China’s South Riot Over Seizure of Land

By ANDREW JACOBS The New York Times
September 23, 2011

BEIJING — Rioters in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have
besieged government buildings, attacked police officers and overturned
SWAT team vehicles during protests this week against the seizure of
farmland, said officials in Shanwei, a city that skirts the South China
Sea not far from Hong Kong.

Lufeng residents have long engaged in a battle over land.

According to a government Web site, hundreds of people on Wednesday
blocked an important highway while others mobbed the local headquarters of
the Communist Party and a police station in the city of Lufeng, injuring a
dozen officers. Some witnesses, posting anonymous accounts online, put the
number of rioters at more than 1,000.

The protests continued Friday, with farmers gathered in front of a
government building banging gongs and holding aloft signs that said “Give
us back our farmland” and “Let us continue farming,” Reuters reported.

The authorities say the violence escalated Thursday after rumors spread
that the police had killed a girl. At least four people were arrested,
including a man officials accused of instigating the crowd.

The violence was the latest outbreak of civil unrest in China fueled by
popular discontent over industrial pollution, police misconduct or illegal
land grabs that leave peasants with little or no compensation. Such “mass
incidents,” as the government calls them, have been steadily increasing in
recent years, providing party leaders with worrisome proof that official
malfeasance combined with a dysfunctional judiciary often has combustible

Last week, hundreds of residents protesting environmental contamination by
a solar panel factory in Zhejiang Province stormed the factory and
destroyed office equipment and vehicles. Weeks earlier, 12,000 people
peacefully gathered in the city of Dalian to demand the closure of a
chemical factory.

In Lufeng, the protests were just the most dramatic manifestation of a
long-running battle over land that residents say their ancestors reclaimed
from the sea. According to a local Web site, the Lufeng city government
has already sold off more than 800 acres of the property for industrial
parks and high-priced housing. The proffered compensation per acre,
villagers said, has been barely enough to buy a new bed.

“Wake up, my neighbors, if we don’t unite now, the land of our ancestors
will be sold off to the last square meter! If we don’t unite now, our
children will be homeless!” read one posting on the site.

“We will have no where to bury our parents or raise our children!”

Municipal governments, which own all land in China, largely depend on
sales of long-term property leases to fill their operating budgets. In
many cases, private real estate companies collude with officials to clear
and develop the land as quickly as possible.

The latest seized plots were sold to a developer for about $156 million,
according to The South China Morning Post, which first reported the sale
and seizure. According to the company’s Web site, the complex is to be
called “Country Garden” after the name of the developer.

“To shape a prosperous future through our conscience and social
responsibility,” is one of the company’s mottoes.

News of the demonstrations and photos and videos were quickly deleted from
the Web by censors, but a few images persisted Friday. In one,
demonstrators carried a banner that read “Give back my ancestors’
farmland.” A video lingered on overturned police vehicles, including one
with graffiti that read “running dogs,” an insult once directed at
perceived enemies of the people.

The continuing unrest could pose a threat to the political aspirations of
Wang Yang, the provincial party secretary who has partly staked his
reputation on promoting the well-being of Guangdong’s 104 million
residents and by trying to gauge the level of their happiness.

“Happiness for the people is like flowers,” Mr. Wang wrote this year. “The
party and the government shall create the proper environment for the
flowers to grow.”

The province is China’s most populous and a manufacturing powerhouse that
produces roughly one third of the country’s exports.

Mia Li contributed research.

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