Shengyou peasants triumph over “hired thugs”

Or so it appears for now. In a story of almost unbelievable dramatic intensity, busloads of armed thugs (can’t think of a beter word for them) swooped into the village to terrorize anmd murder the farmers unwilling to surrender their land to the state. [Update: China readers who cannot open this article will find a copy here.]

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, witnesses said. 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.

The farmers, who had pitched tents and dug foxholes and trenches on the disputed land to prevent the authorities from seizing it, said they suspected the assailants were hired by corrupt local officials. They said scores of villagers were beaten or stabbed and several were shot in the back while fleeing.

Shengyou residents collected some of the weapons abandoned by hundreds of men who attacked them in an attempt to force them off disputed land sought by a state-owned power plant. Niu Zhanzong, 50, right, recorded a portion of the clash with a digital video camera before he was attacked.

Reached by telephone, a spokesman for the provincial government said he could not confirm or discuss the incident. “So far, we’ve been ordered not to issue any information about it,” he said.

Large contingents of police have been posted around Shengyou, about 100 miles southwest of Beijing, but bruised and bandaged residents smuggled a reporter into the village Monday and led him to a vast field littered with abandoned weapons, spent shell casings and bloody rags. They also provided footage of the melee made with a digital video camera….

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, residents said, long after the assailants had departed.

Interestingly, the farmers captured one of the assailants, who now fears he might be murdered — by the police.

The man, Zhu Xiaorui, 23, appeared frightened but healthy, although his ankles were shackled. He said he had been recruited by a man he met at the Beijing nightclub where he worked. He said he was taken to the village, given a metal pipe and told to “teach a lesson” to the farmers, and was promised $12 for the job.

“The villagers have treated me kindly,” Zhu said, tears in his eyes. He added that he did not want to be turned over to Dingzhou police because he was afraid they would kill him for confessing to the farmers.

I read all the time that Hu and Wen are acutely aware of the nation’s growing divide between haves and have-nots and that it concerns them deeply. (And I believe it; they’d be pretty dumb not to worry.) Unfortunately, a system that allows the land to be taken away at whim, and that allows businesses to shower local residents in lethal pollution (as in Huankantou) will inevitably foster deep resentments that will swell into violence. And I have a feeling there are many, many other examples that we simply never hear of because they’re so out of the way.

I know it sounds simplistic, but wouldn’t it be refreshing to see the government crack down on the thugs and the rogue businessmen instead of the victimized farmers and peasants? I know, I’m just a dreamer…

Update: You can see actual video footage of the carnage here. It’s not pretty.

The Discussion: 20 Comments

in defense of wen, i have this anecdotal story of what he is facing, as reported in one of the local chinese-language magazines.

– the state council issues a moratorium order on land acquisitions
– the local government acquires land from peasants anyway.

-the state council issues a moratorium order on huge investments in heavy industries absent return on investment proof
-the local government goes ahead with six iron/steel plants anyway.

-the state council issues a moratorium order on large industrial projects that might impact the enivonrment
-the local government speeds up the construction of those plants.

-wen jiaobao issues a direct order to stop those plants
-construction is halted; in fact, anything that was built up so far was demolished! and the land was returned to the people. oh, as well, all the party and government officials have been fired for contravening the series of state council orders.

but this was one local case, and how many of them can the guy on top keep track of? he has just killed some chickens to show the rest of the monkeys what he means.

p.s. sorry, i don’t have the exact reference, since it is hard to find among the stack of magazines that i get every week. but i remembered relishing reading it several times over. btw, i don’t read any pro-china propaganda rags (this was either Ming Pao monthly, Open magazine or Cheng Ming).

June 15, 2005 @ 11:31 am | Comment

ESWN, I’ve been reading so many things along the lines of what you are saying. The central government just isn’t the all-powerful monolith we tend to think it is.

June 15, 2005 @ 11:49 am | Comment

Holy hell! That video looks like it came from the Chinese Civil War in the 30s and 40s. I really admire the resilience and courage of the farmers.

June 15, 2005 @ 1:11 pm | Comment

The Washighton Post is taking a lifetime to download in Guangzhou (exactly like when TPD experienced problems when it had TSM post).

When it finally does download the video is blank and inaccessable.

I take it from Andrew’s comment that the video is pretty bad.

June 15, 2005 @ 1:59 pm | Comment

Martyn, I’ll try to copy the article and post it soon.

ESWN, I like Wen and know the central government can’t control all aspects of life, especially when the local governments ignore their decrees. But I also know that the central government under Mao did a much better job in controlling corruption, and I do believe today’s today’s government could do more. Of course, under Mao it was a totalitarian police state, where the government controlled virtually everything, so it was easier to control corruption. But there has to be a happy medium somewhere.

June 15, 2005 @ 2:19 pm | Comment

I’m a new reader of your blog. U did a great job there n 2 thumbs up for the creative effort. Keep blogging…


June 15, 2005 @ 2:22 pm | Comment

I cannot believe that video. I’ve never seen anything like it. Thank you Richard.

June 15, 2005 @ 2:28 pm | Comment

Martyn, I added a link to the saved article in the first paragraph of the post.

June 15, 2005 @ 2:47 pm | Comment

That farmer/videographer is one brave man.

June 15, 2005 @ 6:14 pm | Comment

To back up ESWN’s comments – I saw a nice article in the China People’s Daily about something like this – basically Wen going around and asking people how effective the new taxation relief had been. I think Wen is a good guy. Hands are probably tied a bit, though.

June 15, 2005 @ 6:45 pm | Comment

last year in shenzhen there was a lot of violence as the city decided to knock down illegal buildings and, what essentially amounted to small communities.

fair enough, they were buildings built by landsquatters and were unsafe, but it’s still strange to hear of violent clashes with police when the wrecking ball shows up

June 15, 2005 @ 8:30 pm | Comment

Unfortunately, a system that allows … businesses to shower local residents in lethal pollution (as in Huankantou) will inevitably foster deep resentments that will swell into violence.

Well, yes and no. Take a look at our translation of a post from a mainland blog (no longer accessible) on how villagers took another course over serious pollution (hint, no violence).

I support ESWN on this one. I’ve been doing a lot of work on industrial accidents and disease in China, and all the points made in that article he cites (and I saw it too but can’t recall which publication ran it) are valid for health and safety as well. Take coal mining as the classic example: SAWS is pulling its hair out over coal mine deaths, but until they can get local officials discharged with the duty of administering laws and regulations on coal mining out of actually owning or profiting from illegal and/or dangerous mines, it can do next to nothing to prevent more deaths. The trick is driving change down to the village level without screwing everything else.

On the incident reported: it’s going to sound harsh, but this sort of thing on a reduced scale happens all the time on construction sites when migrants ask for their back wages. I’ve been seeing stories in the mainland press of hired thugs hospitalising construction workers in particular (but workers in other sectors too) for several years now (example here – a translation from Xinhua). Unsurprisingly, the Western press has been virtually silent on the issue, but it’s so commonplace that I barely raise an eye these days when I see another story of 50 thugs beating the shit out of 15 migrants and hospitalising every single one of them.

The newsworthiness of this story lies in the scale, but the kind of brutality reported here is quite often captured in the Chinese press. I’ve run stories that would make your hair curl (here’s a translation from the Worker’s Daily that defies description), but nary a mention in the Western press. Why is that?

This story also ran first in a mainland paper and no surprises that Philip Pan picked it up; one of the best and most switched on journalists in China today writing on labour issues.

June 15, 2005 @ 8:44 pm | Comment

Pan is one of my heroes.

I understand your point, Stephen, and I agree with eswn that the central government is trying to improve things and are up against powerful and distant local governments. But I still think if they were as determined about this as they are about the Falun Gong they’d do a better job taking care of their citizens.

Stephen, I wanted to quote from some recent posts of yours but couldn’t cut/paste from your site. Is this intentional?

June 15, 2005 @ 8:51 pm | Comment

sorry for my opening comment that directed attention away from the incident itself. let’s get back to the real subject now, and i have an open question.

the simple script would be: villagers squat on their land to prevent construction without adequate compensation; evil business people + corrupt officials hire thugs to attack them.

the actual script has two stages:
stage 1-near the end of april, 20-30 thugs attacked the villagers, but one of them was caught and thrown into a cellar and shackled. the villagers refuse to turn the captive over to the police. the captive has been there for 50 days.
stage 2- 200 plus thugs came looking for their colleague, yelling “XXX, where are you?” and assaulting villagers in general.

my question: how could the villagers have resolved the problem at the end of the first stage? options:
1-let the guy go (and no one is accountable)
2-let the police take him (and then they will let him go)
3-go petition in beijing.
4-talk to the press.

basically, the sadness is that nothing works.

June 15, 2005 @ 10:40 pm | Comment

IMO, this is where the Chinese government is breaking down. Due to the corruption that is endemic in Chinese society. You have the peasant and migrant workers who are not on the take in general (because they don’t have the connections or any position to sell) just trying to live their lifes, but being educated by the media as to rights against a greedy and thoroughly corrupt system and corrupt high powered people. It is like America, although on an elementary scale. In America violence is not tolerated, but high level thievery is, against us common people, teachers, clerks, farmers, workers, those who don’t have or want connections or don’t have anything to sell except their labor. In this current generation and presidential election cycle Bush is the center piece of this thievery. His tax breaks for the rich, his attempt to steal away and destroy Soc.Sec. and his war which has made many of the wealthy more wealthy and the common people suffer the deaths and the tax bill.

I have to say we are pretty much suckers for allowing it to happen and not stopping it now in its tracks. After all, ours is a government of the people, by the people and for the people, NOT of the rich, the powerful, the phonies, the manipulators, NOT by the liars and NOT for the rich.

June 15, 2005 @ 11:22 pm | Comment

Great last paragraph pete.

I think it’s safe to assume this stories like this are just the tip of the iceberg and I would really love to know out of all the incidents similar to this one, how many do we actually hear about?

At the moment the government appear to be keeping a lid on it because every incident is localized and the press either don’t know about it or are too scared to report it.

This raises the question:

Can it be deduced that the recent government moves against the media to further limit their freedom of reporting mean that incidents such as this are increasing?

As was recently reported on Peking Duck about the governemnt’s recent action to prevent the media from reporting stories from outside their localities, does the central government know something that we don’t?

Perhaps HuJintao would love to further relax the press and take the credit for doing so but the situation in Chinese society simply requires him to further tighten things up.

This is mere speculation but I think it’s fair to say that, if anything, social unrest is increasing.

June 16, 2005 @ 10:57 am | Comment


On cutting and pasting from CSR Asia: no, it’s not intentional. I don’t know why it does that. I’ll get someone to look into it. It annoys the hell of me too…

I take your point on the FLG, government will and legal protection. But since I’m about to leave the office to meet my wife and daughter for dinner, I’m going to leave sorting out China’s problems for another day 🙂

Take care.

June 17, 2005 @ 3:50 am | Comment

Just can’t seem to se the video from the WP; is it just me?

June 18, 2005 @ 2:23 am | Comment

Keir, it’s definitely blocked.

June 18, 2005 @ 7:57 am | Comment

A very interesting article in chinese about ShengYou incident
The main idea is to comparing shengyou incident with the famous enclosure movement in Brittish history. The conclusion is that NOT CCP but “new capitalists” should be blamed because CCP wouldn’t be necessary to use gangs, but new capitalists certainly would as history reveals .

June 20, 2005 @ 4:41 pm | Comment

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