Land seizures are common in rural China, where local governments, often in collusion with real estate development companies, force farmers off their land to make way for housing developments, industrial parks, highways, golf courses, theme parks, or just about anything else that the local government thinks will increase its revenue stream as well as enhance its image as a modern, developed place. Peasants tilling their plots do not contribute much to local coffers, nor does the presence of agriculture further the careers of local leaders. So land gets seized and farmers find themselves joining the masses of rural migrants streaming into the cities with a wad of cash as compensation and nothing much else.
But sometimes the farmers fight back, and that’s been happening this past week in Lufeng, Guangdong, where a riot occurred in which some 12 residents were injured. The news from Lufeng was first reported in English by the South China Morning Post, and on Saturday The New York Times ran a story on it:
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 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 results.
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.
In a similar case, Al Jazeera’s Melissa Chan filed this report from Liuxiazhuang in Zhejiang province. In her report, Chan observes that “What has incensed farmers have been the details of the agreement between the government and the property developers: rental for each mu (the Chinese calculation for a unit of land) went for about $100 (about 700 yuan) with a 15-year lease. Considering the region is one of the wealthiest parts of China, the developers had received a windfall. The market rate for a mu of land typically runs at $42,000 (270,000 yuan). The discrepancy between the two figures is striking.”