20080316-agri-buffalo nolls.jpg Labor activist Han Dongfang wrote on, “Farmers have long been the victims of corrupt officials and crooked businessmen who together bullied or swindled them out of their land, leaving countless millions facing destitution. Even this class, considered by many to be the least politically engaged in Chinese society, who 20 years ago were given ten yuan a head to march on the streets decrying the democracy movement, have been driven into a corner by the corruption of local officials. And now they have now begun to fight back, exposing corruption and defending their lawful land rights. Continuing the struggle down through the generations.” [Source: Han Dongfang,, June 4 2009]

According to the Chinese Ministry of Land and Resources between 1998 and 2005 there were more 1 million cases of illegal seizures involving at least 815,447 acres. The real number of such seizures is believed to be several times high. Sometimes farmers are given only a few days notice before bulldozers arrive on the scene and tore down their houses and ripped up their cornfields and rice paddies and laid foundations for new factories.

A survey in 90 areas in 2008 by the official New China News Agency found that 22 percent to 80 percent of land projects were illegal. In a typical case, local officials sell the rights to land to developers for low prices and a substantial kickback. Then they hire thugs to get rid of the residents, who are either given nothing or a small compensation that is only a fraction of what their property is worth. Those that complained are sometimes jailed.

Land is seized for roads, power plants, dams, factories, waster dumps, urban sprawl and housing projects for wealthy city dwellers who seek peace and quiet and an escape from pollution in the countryside. In some cases the first crews to show up are in dump trucks filled with sand that bury the cropland and plug irrigation canals so the land is unusable. The whole process smacks of the kind of disregard for peasantry that caused the Communist revolution in the 1930s and 40s.

By one estimate 70 million farmers have been victims of land seized between 1994 and 2004. The figure is expected to rise above 100 million. The loss of land is disastrous. It not only deprives them of their livelihood it also denies the, their safety net for the future. Land grabs are particularly common in Guangdong where land is seized for lucrative development and factories.

Often the land that is taken is quite valuable. Even when they are compensated farmers are lucky to get one fiftieth what the land is worth. The money given local government officials is often plowed into some outrageously priced public works project — a bridge, a road or building — that allows the official to siphon off funds or build their reputation with a grand monument. By one estimate the resale of sized farmland between 2003 and 2005 brought in $600 billion, mostly to officials, developers and construction companies. In some ways these seizures have helped fuel China’s double digit annual growth.

Illegal land sales are not only a source of much unrest they damage the economy and the environment. A study by Deutch Bank found that if such land sales were halted economic growth would slow but many most wasteful and environmentally-damaging development projects would not be built.

While there are many stories of farmers having their land seized for a fraction of what the land is worth, there are also many instances of farmers voluntarily giving up their land, selling the leases, and making enough money so they don’t have to work the land anymore. One farmer-turned- merchant who received $3,300 after selling a parcel of land 100 kilometers south of Shanghai with others in his village for a chemical factory, told Reuters, “Planting the field just has no future?” While he used to look at land as back up for hard time he now saw more opportunities outside farming.

Land Seizures, Protests and Unrest

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: Property confiscation is probably the largest single trigger for extreme protest. A 79-year-old man immolated himself in 2010 to protest an eviction; in May, a farmer set bombs in three government buildings, killing himself and two others. In Shanghai a 77-year-old retired doctor went very public with her anger over the demolition of her property in a booming Shanghai neighborhood: She stripped naked on the steps of a courthouse. The woman, Zhuang Jinghui, complained that her home and clinic were demolished in 2008 for redevelopment and that she was tricked out of the compensation she was promised. The extreme protest was effective: The judge and prosecutor handling her case sat down for a meeting and promised to get the case solved by the end of the year. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, October 8, 2011]

Ma Jinhua, a 43-year-old resident of Siping, in the northeastern province of Jilin, said she was sowing corn seeds on fields her husband's family had farmed for generations when local officials, accompanied by uniformed police, ordered her off the land. In the two years since, villagers have managed to stave off the building of a pharmaceutical factory by confronting engineering crews and, in July, sabotaging surveyors' equipment. "We usually send the women and old people out. We figure they won't hurt us. The local government has hired thugs with sticks and clubs. If the young men go out, it will turn violent," said Ma, who was in Beijing recently with other villagers trying to get a hearing at the petition office.

Jeremy Page and Brian Spegele wrote in the Wall Street Journal: Illegal land seizures — often for golf courses, luxury villas and hotels — are seen by many Chinese and foreign experts as the single biggest threat to the Communist Party as it struggles to maintain legitimacy in a society that is becoming increasingly demanding and well-informed, thanks in large measure to the Internet, even as income disparities widen. Such land disputes account for 65 percent of "mass incidents" — the government's euphemism for large protests — in rural areas, according to Yu Jianrong, a professor and expert on rural issues at the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. [Source:Jeremy Page and Brian Spegele, Wall Street Journal, December 15, 2011]

Bloomberg reported: Conflicts over land transfers in China are the leading cause of unrest, according to an official study published in June. The number of protests, riots and strikes doubled in five years to almost 500 a day last year, according to Sun Liping, a professor at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. Rural land disputes are increasing and spreading to the undeveloped west of the country, according to a poll published in October in a magazine run by Xinhua news agency. [Source: Bloomberg News, December 16, 2011]

Land Seizures and Local Government Revenues

About 40 percent of local government revenue came from land sales in 2010, year, according to China Real Estate Information Corp., a property data and consulting firm. Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The land issue looms large in the countryside. Local governments earned $470 billion from land deals in 2010, up from $70 million in 1989, according to the Ministry of Land and Resources, and farmers — who lease their land rather than own it under the communist system — have scant protection if local officials want to give the leases to real estate developers who will pay more. Compensation is often inadequate. Chinese laws designed to protect farmland by requiring permission from the State Council — in effect, the country's Cabinet — for transfers are widely ignored by local officials. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, October 8, 2011]

Yu Jianrong, a professor and expert on rural issues at the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimates that local officials have seized about 16.6 million acres of rural land (more than the entire state of West Virginia) since 1990, depriving farmers of about two trillion yuan ($314 billion) due to the discrepancy between the compensation they receive and the land's real market value. [Source: Jeremy Page and Brian Spegele, Wall Street Journal, December 15, 2011]

Jeremy Page and Brian Spegele wrote in the Wall Street Journal:In 2010 alone, China's local governments raised 2.9 trillion yuan from land sales. And the National Audit Office estimates that 23 percent of local government debt, which it put at 10.7 trillion yuan in June, depends on land sales for repayment.

The Economist reported: China’s local governments carry out over four-fifths of the country’s public spending, but pocket only half of the taxes. To help make up the difference, they rely on expropriating land from farmers and flogging it to bullish property developers. But as developers struggle, land sales are dwindling. As a result, local-government revenue is drying up. Popular resentment, meanwhile, is not. In Wukan, in the southern province of Guangdong, aggrieved villagers rose up in December against land-grabbing officials, chasing the local party chief away. [Source: The Economist, Feb 4, 2012]

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Land Sales and Ownership Rights in China

Jeremy Page and Brian Spegele wrote in the Wall Street Journal: In China, all urban land is owned by the state, although usage rights can be traded. Farmland belongs to rural collectives, headed by village officials, and usage rights can also be traded, though only for agriculture. Under Chinese law, local governments can acquire farmland for construction projects that are "in the public interest" in exchange for compensation based on a multiple of the land's agricultural yield, rather than its market value. [Source: Jeremy Page and Brian Spegele, Wall Street Journal, December 15, 2011]

In reality, local authorities often hatch those deals secretly with village officials, change the land's status from rural to urban to allow construction, and then sell the land-use rights to property developers at an enormous profit, according to experts in the field. In such cases, some villagers are typically angered that rights to their land have been sold at all, while others are upset that they are not paid the market value, with most of the profits going to the officials and developers.

"This kind of dispute is very widespread," Eva Pils, an associate professor of law specializing in land disputes in China at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the Wall Street Journal. "Because people are better connected and better informed, you can sense that there is more radical opposition to what's happening to them," she said. "It's also easier for this kind of protest to spread — and far harder to isolate because information can still travel."

Land Seizures, Development and Self-Looting

The noted economist Wu Jinglian, citing rural affairs experts, estimates that farmers whose land has been seized have lost between 20 trillion and 35 trillion renminbi, or between $3.1 trillion and $5.4 trillion, in land value since the beginning of economic reforms in 1978. He posted his findings in an article on the Web site of the Rural Development Research Institute of Hunan Province. [Source: New York Times, Didi Kirsten Tatlow , June 22, 2011]

If anything the The pace is quickening, according to a report in January by the China Construction Management and Property Law Research Center in Beijing. In 2009, local government income from land use sales was $219 billion, an increase of 43.2 percent over 2008, the center reported, using official data. In 2010, that soared to $417 billion, an increase of 70.4 percent over 2009, the report said.

China today is rich, says Zhang Musheng, a well known intellectual who has specialized in rural development. His ideas eschew pigeonholing and are, unusually, supported by members of both the political left and right, as well as some in the top leadership and military. Once, imperial nations looted other nations to amass wealth, he said.

“We looted ourselves,” Mr. Zhang said in a video interview with NetEase Books, following the publication in April by the Military Science Publishing House of his book “Changing Our View of Culture and History.” “When you loot yourself, you can take quite a bit as well, especially in a country like ours with such a large population,” Mr. Zhang said.

In the last three decades, China’s farmers have “contributed” 200,000 square kilometers, or about 77,000 square miles, of land to development, with little compensation, he said. Through these and other measures, state-owned enterprises in China now own about 100 trillion renminbi in capital, Mr. Zhang estimated.

A form of crony capitalism has emerged, he said, with special interests using government connections to create vast wealth. The result is a divided, often antagonistic society. “We’ve created a mess, and this mess needs to be cleared up,” he said.

Today, the pressure for political reform from many sectors of society is as great as the pressure for economic reform was back in 1978, he said. It won’t be easy. The Communist Party is the patient, but “it wants to operate on itself, and that’s very difficult,” said Mr. Zhang, who believes the party should continue to lead, but that it needs debate, and not just behind closed doors. “The era of “no debate” is already over,” he said, using a phrase he coined five years ago. “If we can debate this, I think we can clear up all these issues. “Today is a time of great political crisis. Don’t imagine their life is easy,” he said, referring to China’s leaders.

Forced Demolitions in China

According to figures from the China Academy if Social Sciences fights over land account for 65 percent of rural “mass conflicts” and is also a serious problem in cities,

In January 2010, a 38-year-old woman was killed by a digger while protesting against a canal project in central Henan Province in front of numerous similar and security guards. In December 2010, a village chief who had protested for years against government-backed land grabs was mysteriously run over by a truck in eastern Zhejiang Province.

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “The struggle over demolition and development is a kind of national psychodrama in China, infused with emotional debate over power, progress, and fairness and fed by the competition between individual rights and collective benefits. The demolition — near the site of the Future Science and Technology City — looked nearly complete. Hundreds of houses in every direction had been turned into mounds of brick and cement and rebar. Among the rubble, a few buildings remained — the holdouts. In cases like this, there are always people who stay as long as possible, in the hope that developers will pay them extra to relocate. It's demolition roulette: in some cases, the holdouts prevail and get more money; in others, they end up being violently evicted. I reached the center of the demolition zone, where the loudspeaker was playing a recorded message in a loop, urging people to accept the compensation on offer and leave peacefully: "Don't listen to rumors! The policies on demolition and relocation will never change!" The sound echoed off the homes of the holdouts. "Sign now, and enjoy a comfortable and wonderful new life with your fellow-villagers!" [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, January 10, 2011]

Means of Carrying Out Land Seizures in China

Land seizures take place using different means. Sometimes village leaders are bribed or coerced into signing blank contracts with local land administration offices. In some cases villagers sign papers which they think are meeting attendance sheets but are actually attached to land sales contracts. In other cases occupants of houses on sized land are woken up in the middle of the night by men with flashlight and driven some place so their houses can be bulldozed down.

Other times local officials take advantage of the fact that farmers lease and don’t own their land and pull out obscure clauses from a 1951 law that allows them to seize land and offer only a pittance for compensation — often only the amount of lost farm income, which is far below the value of the land. Often they don’t even pay that pittance. There have been cases where farmers were promised $5,000 for their land and were lucky to get $150. Even when they get $2,500 they have to make this last the rest of their lives.

About 80 percent of the nearly 12,000 square miles of land turned into development zones as of 2004 had been acquired illegally. One villager whose land was taken to make way for a suburban development outside Shanghai told AP, “This land was inherited from our ancestors generation after generation, but they just auctioned it off without even notifying us. The local government isn’t obeying the laws or national policy.”

In many cases the farmer don’t object to their land being taken away and realize that it is a fact of life. They just want to be fairly compensated, that all, and they get particularly angry when they see corrupt officials get rich off of money that should go to them.

In the early 2000s, villager had their land seized by a rich developer who built a winery and a $50 million copy of the famous French Chateau Maisons-Laffitte. In return for the land villagers were given low-paying jobs in the winery and the village headman was given a stipend of $45 a month.

Reason and Justification for Land Seizures in China

By some estimates local government receive half their funding from real estate transactions. Typically they acquire farm land, put in some minimal infrastructure and sell the land to developers. During the reform years funding was cut off and authority became decentralized very quickly and governments had to scramble to come up with ways to make money. Real estate and land seizures proved to be a relatively easy way to make a lot of money.

After taking power in 1949 the Communists abolished land ownership. After all land became the property of the state — and in rural areas that meant it was under the jurisdiction of local governments. In the 1980s, as part of an effort to create incentives for increased agricultural production, farmers were allowed to lease land for as long as 30 years. Although city dwellers enjoy rights to long-term use and resale rights, changes in land laws in 1998 generally excluded farmers from sale negotiations, giving the state defacto monopoly on structuring deals and setting prices.

About four in 10 Chinese farmers have contracts signed in the past decade or so granting the rights to land for 30 years, But these contracts often mean little when they are opposed by powerful officials who enforce the law and are often the ones that sell the land. A Beijing economist told the Los Angeles Times, “Since peasants have no real ownership rights they could never act as an equal at the negotiating table. The government owns the land, so almost any land reclamation can be justified in the name of public interest.”

Some new laws have put on the books to help farmers whose land has been seized. But they don’t help farmers who had their land taken before the laws were put into affect. Qin Hui, an expert on rural China at Beijing’s Qinghua University, told the New York Times, “If the government wants to take land, it can take it more or less at will.

Some of the problems have been attributed to the elimination of rural taxes which have forced local governments to come up with other means of raise revenues.

Farmers that Fight Land Seizures in China

Farmers that fight the land seizures often can not afford lawyers and have educate themselves on how to fight back. In a typical case they visit and submit documents or petitions to local government officials, the State Council (the equivalent of China’s cabinet), local courts, regional courts, the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Land and Resources and the Petitioners Office with little to show for their efforts. They score their biggest success when they get media coverage or Internet support for their cause.

Farmers or activists that do fight the cases have been roughed up, tortured, arbitrarily imprisoned on trumped up charges for their activities. The heat from local authorities can come down especially hard if word gets out the farmers or activists have intentions of going to Beijing to report to high officials there

Analysts believe that as long as the government has the guns there will be little that farmers can do to fight back. Initiatives made by the national government tend be spotty and temporary and spread too thin. The answer to the problem lies in land reform that give people in the countryside greater property rights, fairer compensation and a credible legal system that gives them the power to have their complaints addressed.

Farmer Revolts Over Land Seizures in China in 2004

There has been a number of demonstrations by farmers trying to get back land that was seized from them, or to get fair compensation for the land that was seized or at least to get money for the land that was promised them but never delivered. Leaders of the protest have been taken from their homes and thrown in jail. Some have been badly beaten.

In July 2004, police fired rubber bullets in to a crowd of farmers protesting land seizures in Shijahe a village outside Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province. No one was killed but one woman was shot nine tines in the back. Another was shot five times. The farmers were protesting the seizure of land by government officials that left them with only a third of the land they had before the seizures. The riot began when several hundred paramilitary police showed up in armored vehicles and tried to arrest protect leaders,.

In 2004, farmers upset by the seizure of their land in the village of Sanchawan, near Yuling in Shanxi Province, took over a Communist Party compound and refused to budge until their grievances were addressed. They remained in the office for five months until they were forced out with tear gas, electric cattle prods and rubber bullets by truckloads of police. Many people were seriously injured by the rubber bullets. One lost an eye after being hit by a tear case cannister. The villagers had land taken from them that had been in their families for generations and were given only $60 of compensation. They became especially enraged when the learned the land was being leased to developed for 50 times that amount.

Farmer Revolts Over Land Seizures in China in 2005

In March 2005, residents of Shiqiao, protesting the seizure of their land for a construction project, clashed with police. Residents were promised compensation for the land equal to between $2,500 and $5,000 per mu (a 15th of a hectare) but the real value was $33,000 be mu with government official pocketing the difference. Residents of the town took to he streets after their effort to seek justice in the court system was blocked by Kafkaesque obstacles. Shortly after the Shiqiao protests, a protest by villagers over a power plant in nearby Dongzhou City resulted in a riot that left six people dead.

In June 2005, six resident of Shengyou village in Hebei Province, 200 kilometers south of Beijing, were killed by government thugs sent to evict farmers from their farm land there. Villagers used the Internet to distribute video footage showing police clubbing protesters. The party chief in the Dongzhou city, which has jurisdiction over the village was sentenced to life in prison for hiring the thugs. Four co-defendants were sentenced to death for their role in the attack.

In July 2005, several thousand demonstrators tried the stop bulldozers from leveling 670 hectares of land near the village of Sanshangang in Guangdong Province Fights broke out between te police and protesters. The land seizures began in 1992 when village leaders were bribed into signing blank contracts with a local land administration office. The same month disgruntled farmers in Inner Mongolia tried to block local officials from seizing land there.

See Environment

Farmer Revolts Over Land Seizures in China in 2006

In January 2006, an estimated 20,000 villagers in the town of Panlong Sanjiao Township near the city of Zhongshan in Guangdong Province gathered to block a highway to protest inadequate compensation of about $85 over land seizures. The villagers were cheated out of their land when papers they signed — which they thought were attendance sheets for a meeting — were attached to land sales contracts. The villagers tried all legal means of redress before staging their protest.

Up to 50 people were injured. There were reports of a 13-year-old girl dying of a heart attack after being hit with an electric baton. One Panlong resident told the New York Times, “It was like a war, so real and so brutal. I did not see who started it, but I saw policemen were beating the villagers and the villagers were fighting back with stones and firecrackers.”

In June 2006, enraged farmers in Sanzhou, 25 miles from Guangzhou, took local officials hostage and, armed clubs and bottles of acid, trapped a group of private thugs inside a building, The official were not let go unto a compromise was reached on 750 acres of rice paddies and fish ponds that had been taken from them and resold ot developers with only minimal compensation.

In December 2006, hundreds of villagers in Xiching village in Guangdong Province angry over a land deal took two hostages — the wife of a former village leader and the son of a local official — and surrounded a local government building. The villagers claimed that their land was taken from them by a developer who paid below market prices.

A farmer who led a two-year sit-in and protests over land seizures in the village of Sacnhawan in Shaanxi Province was given a 15 year prison sentence.

Farmer Revolts Over Land Seizures in China in 2007

In January 2007, there were reports of hundreds of riot police clashing with villagers over an illegal land grab in Chonguyan in Guangdong Province.

In March 2007, one person was killed and at least 14 were injured in a confrontation between villagers and construction workers on Guangzhou Island outside Guangzhou in an altercation that began with a dispute over a traffic accident and grew into protest over unfair compensation for a land grab.

In July 2007, villagers in the Guangdong Province village of Xiantang, near Foshon, raided and occupied a government building to protest corruption and land seizures and were still there three months later. Villagers were angry over poor compensation and the misappropriate of funds to build the large government building they occupied, which is incongruously in an otherwise poor village of 3,500.

In December 2007 there four separate incidents involving 120,000 farmers in provinces demanding rights to “their land.” Near Tianjin 8,000 farmers claimed they reclaimed land illegally taken from them by local officials. Farmers in Jiangsu took a similar action, In Shaanxi, 70,000 migrant farmers announced they had divided the land around 76 villages and intended to “own it for ever.”

Protests Over Land Seizures in 2009 and 2010

In May 2009 in Yingde, a town in Guangdong near the Vietnamese border, villagers were attacked by police armed with batons, pepper spray, smoke bombs and water cannons, leaving one man paralyzed and with brain damage, in a protest that began when four farmers airing the grievances about land seizures were imprisoned. According to villagers 30 elderly women in their 50s and 60s showed up at the police station demanding the release of the farmers. As time passed they were joined by several thousand supporters and curious onlookers, who were later attacked by police bused in from neighboring towns. Police said the protesters stormed a police station and they acted in self defense.

Many of those involved in the protests were Vietnamese Chinese. They told the Washington Post the police pummeled people indiscriminately and hundreds were hurt. Witnesses said they saw police whack old women on the head with batons. When villagers saw that they grabbed stones, bamboo, and anything they could find to fight back. Some found some gasoline and set police vans on fire.

In March 2010, a 92-year-old man and his 68-year-old son in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, set themselves on fire in protest against the demolition of their family's pig farm, and the son died of his injuries. However, the sty was torn down. In 2009, a woman set herself on fire on a roof in Chengdu in Sichuan Province to protest land seizures and died. Pictures and videos of the incident were widely circulated on the Internet Shortly after that a man protesting another land seizure set himself on fire in Beijing . Both incidents helped bring attention to the land seizure issue.

Farmers Riot in Guangdong Over Land Seizure in September 2011

In September 2011, Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “Rioters in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have besieged government buildings, attacked police officers and overturned SWAT team vehicles during protests against the seizure of farmland, said officials in Shanwei, a city that skirts the South China Sea not far from Hong Kong. According to a government Web site, hundreds of people 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. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, September 23, 2011]

The protests continued two days later, 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 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.

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!”

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. 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.”

Wukan Protests, See Separate Article Under Government, Protests

Rocket Man in China Wins Payout

Yang Youde, a farmer who lives on the outskirts of Wuhan, Hubei province, become something of a cult figure in 2010 when he launched a one-man pyrotechnic resistance campaign in which he built a rickety watchtower above his home and used it to fire a bamboo bazooka at builders approaching his land. After holding out in this fashion for months, using homemade rockets, he was awarded with record levels of compensation for his land. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, July 9, 2010]

According to the China Daily, Yang has also become the most successful hold-out, by winning a compensation deal worth more than 750,000 yuan (£75,000) for 1.75 hectares (4.32 acres) of land, a fishpond and single-storey brick farmhouse.

“Although he claims to have fired only warning shots at developers, his actions appear to have secured a far higher settlement than that offered to his neighbors. According to the paper, Yang was so pleased that he personally demolished his eight-meter-high watchtower and made preparations to relocate.”

“Yang signed the deal a week after his elder brother was attacked and injured in an escalation of the confrontation. But the unfavorable media attention this directed at the authorities appears to have worked in his favor. “Their attitudes were totally different and full of sincerity this time. It made me hopeful of being able to iron out our differences,” he said.

Farmer’s Rights Activists in China

Lu Banglie is an activist farmer from Hubei who has studied Chinese law and uses his knowledge to help farmers who have had their land taken away. His aim has been to educate farmers so they can help themselves. Lu got his start opposing the multiple-fee system and demanding an accounting of money allocated to help farmers hurt by flooding. His efforts led to the downfall of a local party leader. Lu has been beaten up badly by thugs, presumably dispatched by local party officials whose efforts to profit on land taken from peasants has been thwarted.

Gao Chuancai is regarded as one the most stubborn and persistent advocate of farmers rights. He has worked for over decade petitioning and identifying officials who routinely pocket compensation money intended for farmers. His struggle has resulted in 12 detentions, broken bones, smashed teeth and irreversible impotence, and, he said, the suicide of his wife — but still he carries on. His sister told the New York Times, “Nothing will stop him, unless he is killed.”

Gao is widely supported by farmers in his home town of Wangang in Heliongjiang Province, and agricultural villages nearby. The main target of his activism has been the pocketing of money intended for farmers forced to leave the homes to make way for a highway by corrupt officials. His main tactics have been repeatedly submitting petitions and hanging out at government offices. He filed for an application to demonstrate at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and was seized in a Beijing bathhouse and sent to his home village and imprisoned in a local hotel.

Land rights activist Yang Chunlin fought for the rights of farmers who had their land taken away and collected 10,000 signatures on an open letter entitled “We want human rights, not the Olympics.” In March 2008, Yang was sentenced to five years in prison and given a shock with an electric baton when his family scuffled with police.

Efforts to Stop Land Seizures in China

Jeremy Page and Brian Spegele wrote in the Wall Street Journal: China's Land Ministry has also warned that misappropriation of farmland has brought the country dangerously close to the so-called red line of 296 million acres of arable land that the government believes it needs to feed China's 1.34 billion people. The Land Ministry, which uses satellite imagery to spot abuses, launched a fresh crackdown on illegal land use this year, targeting golf courses, hotels and villas in particular, and has announced several high-profile cases in which officials have been punished. But the central government's attempts to curb such abuses, and to draft new legislation that would protect against land grabs and give farmers a market rate for their land, have met fierce resistance from local authorities who rely on land sales to maintain growth, service debt and top up their budgets.

In January 2010, the government said that it was considering making major changes regarding the way land is claimed by local governments in attempt to placate anger over the land seizure issue. According to a posting on the State Council’s website the government is considering banning developers and demolition companies from using violence or shutting off water and electricity to get residents to move and calls for compensation of seized property to be above market prices.

Some help for farmers on the land seizure issue is coming from the top. In 2005, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao called on local officials to halt illegal land grabs and warned senior bureaucrats that failing to protect farmers is a “historical mistake.” “This is a key issue that affects the stability of the countryside and society, and it must be clearly recognized by all levels of government and party committees.”

In a January 2006 address to the Politburo Chinese President Hu Jintao called for a resolution of “major contradictions and problems we are faced with” in the countryside. “If we cannot succeed in developing agriculture and rural areas while helping farmers improve their lives markedly, we will fail to reach the goal of building a comparatively prosperous society.”

In 2004, the government ordered a freeze on conversion of farmland to industrial use, a move taken more as a response to falling grain production than a desire to help farmers..

In June 2006, Beijing barred local officials from confiscating farmland without approval from national ministries and from using the proceeds from confiscated land to finance government institutions.

The government has shut down industrial projects, including a steel mill in Changzhou after determining that the local government had illegally forced farmers off their land. In 2004, eight of the plant’s senior executive were arrested and a Communist Party official was demoted for their involvement in the case.

Other events’such as giving life in prison sentences to party official that condemned corruption and land seizures’seems to contradict these efforts.

Wen Urges Protection for Farmer Rights, Stop to Land Grabs

In December 2011 Bloomberg reported: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called on officials to better protect the rights of farmers and ensure they receive a bigger share of profits from the conversion of their land to industrial and residential use. “We can no longer sacrifice farmers’ land ownership rights to reduce urbanization and industrialization costs,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported Wen as saying at an annual national work conference on rural affairs yesterday. “It’s both necessary and possible for us to significantly increase farmers’ gains from the increase in land value.” [Source: Bloomberg, December 28, 2011]

Wen’s comments follow a victory by residents of the southern Chinese village of Wukan in December 2011 who staged a two-week protest that forced authorities to back down in a dispute over land. Strikes, demonstrations and other protests in China doubled to at least 180,000 in 2010 from four years earlier, according to Sun Liping, a sociology professor at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.

Wen also said rural residents shouldn’t be forced to give up their rights to land even if they move to cities. “No one is empowered to take away such rights,” Wen was quoted as saying by the state-run news agency.

The unrest in Wukan first began in September, when disputes over land, local elections and village finances between residents and local officials led protesters to attack police and overturn cars, according to the Shanwei city government. Protests flared again this month after police detained five villagers on accusations that they had led demonstrations and one of the men, Xue Jinbo, died while in custody on December 11.

The decision to meet the villagers’ demands is part of a wider government strategy aimed at containing such protests before they spread, according to Joseph Cheng, a politics professor at the City University of Hong Kong. The standoff and other protests have sparked concerns that unrest stemming from China’s growth could undermine the Communist Party’s rule.

Separately, a senior Party official in Guangdong province, where Wukan is located, also called officials to improve their skills in dealing with public’s complaints and claims and take quick response, according to Xinhua. “It is imperative for us to improve our work in response to complaints and claims from the people as ideas of democracy, equality and rights are taking root among the public,” said Zhu Mingguo, vice secretary of the Guangdong provincial committee of the Communist Party of China, at a recent stability maintenance workshop. “We need to resolve issues of people’s immediate interests and concerns in a timely manner,” said, Zhu, who was the key government official who initiated the negotiations to end the protests in Wukan.

New Rules on Forced Demolitions in China

In January 2011, China's state council said it had approved a draft plan to curb forced demolitions. It stressed that developers should not be involved in land seizure projects and residents should receive fair compensation for their destroyed businesses and homes.

Under the rules, according to AFP and Xinhua, violence or coercion must not be used to force homeowners to leave. If government authorities cannot reach an agreement with residents over expropriations or compensation for their property, demolitions can only be carried out after the local court has reviewed and approved them. The previous rules had authorized local governments to enforce demolitions at their own will, the report said, quoting unnamed officials at the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development.

In September 2011, local governments in China were told by the Supreme People's Court — China’s top court — they should be careful with demolition projects and stop them if the residents involved threaten suicide.The move follows a rash of suicides and incidents of social unrest in the last year over enforced demolitions, including several cases of people setting themselves on fire to protest the seizure of their homes for new development.

The Supreme People's Court said in a statement: "Force must be applied with caution and absolute certainty that there will not be unexpected outcome." It said that when people behave in "extreme ways" and injuries or death could be caused, then the demolition "should, in normal circumstances, be called off immediately." [Source: AP, September 10, 2011]

Image Sources: YouTube

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2012

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