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Sharp, suspicious escalation in state-sponsored violence against peasant resistance

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Part 2

A marked escalation of government force has just occurred in Shengyou, Hebei province, southwest of Beijing. Of those confrontations that have come to media notice, Shengyou has become "one of China's deadliest incidents of rural unrest":

  • Attacking toughs fired on the peasants with "hunting shotguns and flare guns" even though firearms are "strictly regulated in China"
  • Men sent to route the peasants "appeared to be hired thugs rather than police"
  • Casualty rates were high, six peasants dead and many as a hundred others "seriously injured"

The attack occurred on 11 June and was first reported Monday [13 June] in the Beijing News (Xinjing bao), a "state-run tabloid known for testing party censors" but that might change as rumors are out that Beijing Media Corporation's acquisition of Chinese media firms will include the Beijing News, presently owned by the Guangming and Nanfang Newspaper groups:

Hundreds of men armed with shotguns, clubs and pipes on Saturday attacked a group of farmers who were resisting official demands to surrender land to a state-owned power plant… Six farmers were killed and as many as 100 others were seriously injured in one of China's deadliest incidents of rural unrest in years.

Residents said the men arrived in six white buses before dawn, most of them wearing hard hats and combat fatigues, and they struck without warning, repeatedly shouting "Kill!" and "Attack!" Police failed to respond to calls for help until nearly six hours later [long] after the assailants had departed.

The pattern was familiar: In 2003, the Hebei Guohua Dingzhou Power Plant announced that it would build a coal ash storage facility on land expropriated from 13 villages. Shengyou refused to cede as farmers commenced camping on the disputed land in the fall of 2003. Police from the nearby city of Dingzhou, which governs Shengyou, blockaded to prevent access to food and water. Villagers responded with a 24/7 watch and digging foxholes and trenches to prevent seizure by the authorities. Villagers fought off a smaller attack by toughs, not police.

The change was the massed attack by heavily armed toughs intent on inflicting fatal bodily harm as opposed to police or paramilitaries normally armed with riot batons and tear gas, against whom charges of killings or undue force would have political repercussions. China is a closely monitored society in which the public solicitation, organized transport, and arming with strictly controlled weapons could not have happened without approval of at least the local authorities.

Villagers smuggled a reporter through a police cordon surrounding Shengyou, leading "him to a vast field littered with abandoned weapons, spent shell casings and bloody rags." The reporter was furnished with footage from a farmer that managed to film part of the attack before being beaten himself.

The farmers remain in control of the land, occupying the local Communist Party headquarters and exhibiting a foul view of local political, administrative and police cadres, but given the value of the power plant, it seems unlikely that the authorities will relent. A relative low profile response would be, as in Huaxi, to bring in plainclothes police and attempt to identify the village resistance leaders.

Chinese Peasants Attacked in Land Dispute
By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post
June 15, 2005

Shengyou Attack video
Washington Post
June 14, 2005

For Chinese, Peasant Revolt Is Rare Victory
By Edward Cody
Washington Post
June 13, 2005
Time-sequence
diagram of the Zhuxi Industrial Park

Gordon Housworth



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