Land Disputes Ignite Peasant Uprisings in Rural China

Publication: China Brief Volume: 8 Issue: 9

An altercation between police and villagers in Saixi—protesting against insufficient compensation for the appropriation of land in the village for mining—resulted in bloodshed that left two reported dead, more than 20 injured and five critically wounded, according to a report by Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao on April 22 (Ming Pao, April 22). The incident took place on April 21 in the village of Saixi, near the city of Mengdong, in the autonomous prefecture of Malipo on the border of Vietnam, where the population is majority Miao, an ethnic minority group in China. Allegedly, on April 20, miners from Zijin Mining Corp., one of the largest mining companies in China, began excavations on the contested village land. A group of around 100 villagers gathered on April 21 to protest the insufficient compensation package offered by the company. According to a source cited by Ming Pao, when the local police arrived at the scene to put down the protest, tensions escalated after the villagers started to use wooden sticks and bricks to attack the police, which left five police officers wounded (China Times, April 22). The police reportedly then fired warning shots to disburse the protests but to no avail; it was then that the police fired into the crowd, reportedly killing two villagers (China Times, April 22). An official from the Malipo County government’s propaganda department by the surname Xie said that it was only when the officers’ lives were believed to be under threat that they used their guns in self-defense (China Times, April 22). Local officials claim that the villagers were from small mining companies without licenses. Moreover, the official stated that only one villager was killed and 11 were wounded in the violent standoff, and no bodies were found on the scene of the incident (Xinhua News Agency, April 22).

In related reports, between April 9 and 13, local police in Hainan province, located off China’s southern coast, reportedly clashed with 6,000 residents in Longqiao Township, where the local population is majority Li, an ethnic minority group in China (Chinese Human Rights Defender, April 21; AFP, April 22). The residents were protesting the local government for its confiscation of more than 100,000 square meters of farmland (about 7,000 hectares) for the construction of golf courses—the residents complained that they were offered insufficient compensation for their land. In the standoff, the police allegedly launched tear gas canisters into the crowd, wounding at least 300 farmers—some police were also wounded in the incident. The area was subsequently walled off and journalists were not permitted to interview the residents (Chinese Human Rights Defender, April 21).

Land disputes in rural areas reflect an acute socioeconomic and political problem in China; while China’s backbreaking economic growth has created opulent wealth for the coastal provinces and urban elites, it has also sharpened the urban-rural divide both economically and politically due to its uneven distribution of economic infrastructure development. Chen Xiwen, director of the Office of Central Rural Work Leading Group, stated there was a decline in protests in 2006, close to a 20 percent drop from the previous year (People’s Daily Online, January 31, 2007). Yet there is also a sizeable proportion of protests stemming from poor compensation packages in land appropriation deals that are brokered between the local government and developers. While the Ministry of Public Security said 87,000 mass incidents were reported in 2005, which was up by 6.6 percent from 2004, more than 65 percent of mass incidents in rural areas were reportedly the result of land expropriation (Asia Times Online, March 20, 2007).