Huaxi Peasant Revolt

The Washington Post today offers a massive four-page analysis of the recent peasant uprising in Huaxi — why the farmers revolted, how the government responded (repression, the usual tactic) and how the peasants won their rare victory. Most important is what this episode means for China’s future.

A pitched battle erupted that soggy morning between enraged farmers and badly outnumbered police. By the end of the day, high-ranking officials had fled in their black sedans and hundreds of policemen had scattered in panic while farmers destroyed their vehicles. It was a rare triumph for the peasants, rising up against the all-powerful Communist Party government.

The confrontation was also a glimpse of a gathering force that could help shape the future of China: the power of spontaneous mass protest. Peasants and workers left behind by China’s economic boom increasingly have resorted to the kind of unrest that ignited in Huaxi. Their explosions of anger have become a potential source of instability and a threat to the party’s monopoly on power that has leaders in Beijing worried. By some accounts, there have been thousands of such protests a year, often met with force.

The workers and peasants appear to have nowhere else to turn but the street. Their representatives in parliament do what the government says; independent organizations are banned in China’s communist system; and party officials, focused on economic growth, have become partners of eager entrepreneurs rather than defenders of those abandoned by the boom. Most of the violent grass-roots eruptions have been put down, hard and fast. This report examines the origin and unfolding of one revolt that went the other way. “We won a big victory,” declared a farmer who described the protest on condition that his name be withheld, lest police arrest him as a ringleader. “We protected our land. And anyway, the government should not have sent so many people to suppress us.”

The reporter takes you right there; you can feel the peasants’ anguish as the government destroys their land and poisons their food. Is there a time to take up violence? Yes, unfortunately there is, as a very last resport. This was one of those times.

How China deals with this class division will make or break the country. It’s a problem of staggering complexity, with no easy answers. Only one thing’s for sure: Sending in people with guns to silence and terrify the masses is not the solution and could backfire with catastrophic effects.

UPDATE: This is blocked in China. You can find the entire article here.

The Discussion: 19 Comments

now i understand why the washingpost web site has been basically inaccessbile for the last few days. any way you can post more of the article?

June 13, 2005 @ 8:47 am | Comment

The Washington Post takes ages to load up here in Shenzhen. I mean ages.

Do you think it’d the nanny?

June 13, 2005 @ 9:02 am | Comment

Of course. I’ve uploaded the entire article and put the link in the post as an update. It’s too huge to paste onto my site.

June 13, 2005 @ 10:04 am | Comment

I think the strange thing is : they did not go in with guns.

an awful lot of troops, absolutely (reports vary from a few hundred to a few thousand). a lot of injuries, some a bit screwed up (though as I mentioned I can’t say I really blame them), but most of the injured were on the govt’s side. not a single gun was fired.

it speaks to me of china’s awareness of the picture it presents to the world. they cannot have a repeat of tmsq. they can ‘get away’ with a lot and only a handful of people will get riled up, but if they open fire again they’re simply screwed in the world stage.

I’m still waiting to find out what the hell has happened since. every now and again someone does a rehash piece like this, but this happened in *april*….they might not have fired guns into the crowd to save their necks, but someone’s likely going to have to pay the piper sooner or later…

June 13, 2005 @ 10:13 am | Comment

From the article: dozens of government cars and buses wound into Huaxi beginning at 4:30 a.m. on April 10, carrying an estimated 3,000 policemen and civilians assigned to destroy the tents

Whether or not they actually used guns is irrelevant to me. They were sent into the town expressly to repress the demonstrators using brute force, so the TS mentality is alive and well. Only this time they were outsmarted. Bloodshed is always horrible, but as I said in an earlier thread, if I had gone through what these peasants did, I would probably be willing to resort to violence myself.

June 13, 2005 @ 10:46 am | Comment

preachin to the choir on ‘if I were in their shoes’. I can’t for a second blame them, no matter how out of control it got.

but. the statistics don’t sound like the same kind of bloodshed as in the past. hospital reports put the injured at 50+ govt side, 4 peasant side.

June 13, 2005 @ 11:03 am | Comment

Yes, it was the peasants who did most of the violence, that’s for sure. And some of it was pretty monstrous.

June 13, 2005 @ 11:25 am | Comment

What a great piece. I hope they continue to follow up on this, about how the situation ends up being handled in the long run.

June 13, 2005 @ 12:42 pm | Comment

I wouldn’t bet on a happy outcome in the long run. The party cannot allow a challenge to its power, no matter how “justified” it may seem in local circumstances. My bet is that some peasants and some low ranking local officials will take the blame and have to bear the brunt of the retribution. The local, state, and indeed national power was challenged-and whipped!. This clearly cannot be allowed to provide an example to other, equally aggrieved, areas.
Furthermore, if the factories are indeed closed down (and closing them down would indeed reward their “rebellious” actions) they would most likely open up in another area. Wasn’t that the case with one of the worst polluting factories, anyway?

June 13, 2005 @ 6:14 pm | Comment

Thanks for posting that. I can get to the original site no problem, although I’ve been all sorts of suspicious things happeneing with the Guardian website recently – I really hope they don’t take that away from me in my last few days here!

I’ve got something interesrting to read with my breakfast now after my morning run!

June 13, 2005 @ 7:20 pm | Comment

Daily linklets 14th June

* The case of Henry Kissinger, a jade wine glass and a magic trick. On Kissinger’s op-ed piece on China, Mutantfrog takes the old Doc to task saying the big K doesn’t know Chinese history. * Online marriages are a mixed blessing in China. * A thorough …

June 13, 2005 @ 8:07 pm | Comment

On the other hand, look what happened in Hebei ( ):

Hundreds of people brandishing guns and clubs attacked a shantytown in northern China, killing six people and injuring another 48, state media reported Monday.

The motive behind the attack Saturday in Shenyou, a village in Hebei province, was not immediately clear and was under investigation, according to the newspaper Beijing News.

The Beijing News said between 200 and 300 young men wearing camouflage gear and hardhats arrived in buses before dawn and started attacking people living in the shantytown located on a vacant lot.

Citing witnesses, the newspaper said the men brandished guns, fire extinguishers, clubs and knives. They “rushed into the shacks and started pounding and chopping,” the witnesses were cited as saying.

They said they saw a 60-year-old man being gunned down, the newspaper reported. Another villager, Huang Jingfeng, said she was hit by a brick as she fled the scene.

The unlinkable SCMP reports that the villagers land had been appropriated to build a factory and they refused to move because promised compensation was never paid.

June 13, 2005 @ 8:49 pm | Comment

Jesus! I wonder how many things like this go on that we never get to hear about.

June 13, 2005 @ 9:05 pm | Comment

the new hebei incident is quite murky, but there is even a live video of the event.

the background seems to be that there was a broad land acquisition scheme. out of 12 villages, 11 agreed but this one was holding out for more. of course, that wouldn’t justify a massive assault.

one attacker was apprehended by the villagers and locked up in a basement. the villagers refuse to turn him over to the police. the attacker is an unemployed no-gooder who was asked for a friend of a friend to come down to do the job for something like 100 yuan. not clear who is paying him, or for what purpose.

June 13, 2005 @ 9:36 pm | Comment

That’s quite a lot of money in Hebei, no? Not that I’m touting for business or anything…

June 13, 2005 @ 9:44 pm | Comment

Could be the net nanny – WaPo was easy to access till some days ago.
Look for the article at or

June 13, 2005 @ 9:55 pm | Comment

These things go on every week, its just they are seldom reported in the english-language media (because the Central Propaganda Department is actually quite good at doing its job). Here are a few I have collected in recent weeks:
1. The Dingzhou incident reported in Xinjing Bao.
2. The residents of Shalan township, Heilongjiang, rise up against the local authorities after blaming them for the flood disaster that killed their children. Reported in SCMP 13 June.
3. A large-scale police-villager clash in Huangpu township, Guangdong, after village cadres accused of stealing money from a land sale. Policemen allegedly assault and wound many villagers. Reported in Tai Yang Pao 13 June.
4. Villagers in Shenzhen confront local authorities after disputed election result. Authorities mobilise security forces. Reported in Ming Pao 11 June.
5. Protests by hundreds of workers at a Wuxi department store over layoffs and corrupt dealings. All coverage has been blacked out in mainland media. SCMP 11 June.
6. Two brothers threatened a Beijing city construction team with a homemade bomb after they were evicted to make way for Olympics construction. AFP 12 June.
7. Over 3000 textile workers in Zengcheng, Guangdong, clash with police, destroy vehicles and force public security personnel to flee, after a wage dispute. Xin Kuai Bao 5 June and AFP 5 June.
8. Beijing police detain over 300 disgruntled ex-military factory workers who came to Beijing to protest outside PLA HQ from Hebei. Scuffles broke out as the workers tried to break through the police blockade. Kyodo. 3 June.
9. Over 1000 soccer fans clash with police in Henan after they rioted over a referees call. Many injuries, stadium ruined, etc. Protestors claimed police had pulled two fans out of the crowd and beaten them, sparking the riot. Tai Yang Pao. 6 June.
10. Thousands of Tibetans in Qinghai province reportedly clashed with security forces after they protested alleged graft by local officials. AFP 2 June.
11. Villagers near Beijing protest the construction of the Beijing-Chengde superhighway through their village. An old villager dropped dead when police confronted the crowd, leading to a riot and detention of a local security bureau official by villagers. Tai Yang Pao. 28 May.
12. Villagers from Jinggangshan, Jiangxi, block the Beijing-Kowloon railway until dispersed by armed police. Protesting about a land compensation dispute. Singtao Jih Pao. 24 May.
I could go on and on, but you get the picture ๐Ÿ˜‰

June 13, 2005 @ 10:09 pm | Comment

I’m going to post this in the open thread, but I just watched Blind Shaft, anyone seen it? Apropos of Dylan’s list above. What a good, dark, honest piece of film-making.

June 14, 2005 @ 12:49 am | Comment

protest at an ink factory in gangu, gansu over poor working conditions. workers lay down on the railway tracks, stopping the shanghai-xinjiang line, in an effort to get a meeting with local officials. no one was run over but many were subsequently arrested. May.

dylan, if you want to go on and on, you can guest blog for me anytime.

June 14, 2005 @ 7:36 am | Comment

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