Another day, another riot

Poor Chinese villagers always seem to get bent out of shape when the government evicts them from their land and bulldozes their homes into rubble. I think I would, too.

Thousands of farmers demonstrated against a land eviction in China’s southern Guangdong province, with clashes erupting after police detained some protestors, a rights group said.

Four villagers were rounded up by police on Thursday after the farmers tried to block bulldozers from levelling about 670 hectares of land near Sanshangang village, the Empowerment and Rights Institute said.

On Saturday, the third consecutive day of protests, demonstrators surrounded Sanshangang’s public security bureau demanding the release of the arrested protestors, said Maggie Hou, an official with the independent institute.

“Some 200 demonstrators began the protest on Saturday, but by the evening several thousand protesters had arrived, with farmers from other areas also joining in,” Hou told AFP.

Around 600 police watched as protesters shouted slogans and carried banners that said “give our land back” and “the land law should be implemented equally”, Hou said.

Always the same nowadays. Either the poor villagers’ land is poisoned with industrial waste or stolen from them outright.

I listened this morning rather spellbound as National Public Radio had people read the entire Declaration of Independence, each reader uttering a different sentence. Never before did I realize just how exquisite a document it is, and how it really can serve as a chedcklist for when revolution is called for. As I listened, I kept thinking how so much of it applies to today’s disenfranchised Chinese, and how, armed with this Declaration, they could justifiably start the next peasants’ revolution — the two words that keep Hu Jintao up at night chewing his fingernails.

I strongly urge you to read it. I mean, really read it and “hear” it as a modern-day document as relevant to the world today as it was 230 years ago. It’s a work of art, and the fact that we were so lucky to have such geniuses among our Founding Fathers is one of the greatest miracles of modern civilization.

Aside from the unfortunate reference to the “indian savages,” which reflected the thinking of all Westerners at that time, it’s practically perfect. I suspect it isn’t taught in China’s public schools.

Link via CDT.

The Discussion: 23 Comments

It seems like rioting is becoming the new national pastime here in China.

As noted on another blog, I wonder if instability is on the rise in China or is it just being reported more than in previous years?

July 4, 2005 @ 7:46 pm | Comment

Hmmmmm, good question mate. I think it might possibly be a bit of both!

You won’t get a straight answer out of me!

July 4, 2005 @ 8:33 pm | Comment

As you should all be aware, protests have been on the rise in China every year since 1993 according to figures in Liaowang quoting the Communist Party of China Law Commission. In 1993 there were less than 1000 “mass incidents”, by 2003 there were more than 58,000.

July 4, 2005 @ 9:20 pm | Comment

I could certainly believe that there has been an increase in protests; although I’m not quite willing to trust CPC statistics on the matter (though they would be more likely understating the situation).

July 4, 2005 @ 9:39 pm | Comment

A Chinese government official was quoted in yesterday’s SCMP saying that violent riots were evidence of China’s healthy democracy.

July 4, 2005 @ 11:12 pm | Comment

Is the CCP teaching BushCo or BushCo teaching CCP the art of double talk?

July 4, 2005 @ 11:17 pm | Comment

Yes, the subscription-only article Conrad mentions above on the SCMP is available on as he blogged about it yesterday.

Defo worth a read.

July 4, 2005 @ 11:22 pm | Comment

The Declaration is more than just exquisite. Too bad they’ll never teach it here.

As far as I know it’s the only national founding document which includes as an inherent right “the pursuit of happiness” AND leaves the definition of happiness to the individual. Pretty revolutionary.

July 4, 2005 @ 11:31 pm | Comment

In 79 I had students quote the Declaration and Thomas Jefferson at me. One time somebody asked me in class about the Bill of Rights. I came up with quite a nice spontaneous lecture and repeated it to my next two classes. Then I got really nervous…

July 4, 2005 @ 11:39 pm | Comment

Yes, that crossed my mind Lisa as I remember reading it in one of your earlier Paper Tiger posts.

How innocent the people sounded back then, not like the largely money-orientated and fiercely-nationalistic types of today!

BTW, the honour of being my first ever commenter (“Hi China, Bye China?” on the Horse’s Mouth) is still up for grabs Lisa! Well it’s important to me anyway, it would be great if you could be my first commenter!

July 4, 2005 @ 11:46 pm | Comment

Oh, I will go comment then! I am so susceptible to flattery…

July 4, 2005 @ 11:55 pm | Comment

declaration of independence is in chinese high school history book. though there is no full text. but i do wonder whether us schools have communist manifesto in full text in their schoolbooks. (chinese schools don’t have that either.)

i guess it’s natural to have assumptions, especially while in a foreign environment. bus still…

July 5, 2005 @ 7:10 am | Comment

“A Chinese government official was quoted in yesterday’s SCMP saying that violent riots were evidence of China’s healthy democracy”

well, isn’t it, sort of? if you substituted ‘healthy’ for ‘potential’? and before you slam me, this is not a rhetorical. this is one of those puzzles to me.

20 years ago people worried that their brother might turn them in to the local party official if they did something as simple as complain about their boss.

today they riot in the streets, regardless of the illegality some feel the need to make their voices heard. does this mean they feel more free, less afriad (not completely without, but less), or does it mean they’ve just reached their personal breaking points, they have to vent or they’ll explode?

or maybe this is too simplistic a way of looking at it.

(ps – can’t speak for anyone else, but I studies the communist manifesto (full text) in high school. also studied french revolutionary philosophy and various other original political documents, and idealist writings.)

July 5, 2005 @ 9:42 am | Comment

Of course you’re right Echo, there’s been a real loosening of society since the late 70’s.

Like you say, people spied on each other constantly and nosy old busy-bodies would sit outside every street and apartment block watching all the comings and goings.

That’s, incidently, why China never needed a KGB.

I think people were making a parody of Mr. Chen’s use of the word “democracy”. Although, you’re essentially correct in what you say, it still sounds strange coming from the mouth of a high official of the Chinese Communist Party.

After all, he’s not the just the first Chinese official to bandy words like “democracy” and “human rights” on the most innapropriate occasions.

I googled ‘Chen Xiwen’ and ‘democracy’ yesterday and it turns out that Mr. Chen is quite fond of the ‘d’ word!

July 5, 2005 @ 10:05 am | Comment

btw, just read the article. he wasn’t quoted as saying it, the reporter said it.

he was quoted as saying, roughly, ‘they know their rights and that’s a good thing.’

July 5, 2005 @ 10:07 am | Comment

hmm. curious. I’d be interested to see in how many of those articles he actually used the word, and how many he talked around it…..maybe I’m overanalyzing everything again, but I’d have a lot more hope for him being a positive influence if it were the latter. ie he might be of the ‘want people to have rights without going so far as removing the party from the equation’ school

got any of those links still open? want to share? I’ll hit google too…

July 5, 2005 @ 10:16 am | Comment

I read the article. He expressed himself poorly, but if you look at his background, he seems to have the interests of the farmers and villagers at heart. I got the distinct impression he’s a good guy who needs some lessons in public speaking.

July 5, 2005 @ 11:02 am | Comment

I’ve been reading what I can off google (god it takes a bloody while, doesn’t it)

looks like this guy’s been writing some vaguely honest reports for the government. now I don’t know at all whether internal/external documents are generally ‘optimistic’ or honest, but reports written by him seem to be of the latter variety, ie ‘this went very wrong’ was actually pointed out. again, no idea what that means, just read that it happened. getting all interested in this now…

so martyn man, help a girl out with the balanced picture here. cause my google appears to be acting diffferently than yours, even with the same search terms….and you know I like my balance ; )

July 5, 2005 @ 11:12 am | Comment

richard – you too, where’re you getting your background information?

July 5, 2005 @ 11:17 am | Comment

Unlinkable SCMP – here it is in full.

Monday, July 4, 2005

Vice-minister says protests inevitable as country
undergoes huge changes


Violent protests by the mainland’s farmers are
inevitable due to the country’s enormous social and
economic changes, according to a top central
government official in charge of agricultural policy.

Chen Xiwen also hailed farmers’ willingness to speak
up against injustice as a sign of democracy.

While stressing that he did not approve of using
violence, the recent spate of protests demonstrated
that farmers now knew how to protect their rights and
interests, said Mr Chen, vice-minister of the Office
of the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic

Reports of such protests also helped the central
leadership act quickly and solve problems faced by
farmers, Mr Chen said in an interview with the South
China Morning Post.

The mainland has been hit by a spate of violent
protests by farmers in recent weeks, mainly over land
disputes and pollution. In April, thousands of farmers
fought a bloody battle with police and officials over
unpopular chemical plants in Huaxi village in Dongyang
, Zhejiang province , while at least six people were
killed in Hebei province last month when several
hundred armed thugs attacked villagers who refused to
hand over their land to an electronics factory.

“On the one hand, riots like the one in Dongyang are a
tragedy and show that local authorities failed to do a
proper job,” Mr Chen said. “But on the other hand,
they show that our farmers know to protect their
rights, which is a good thing.

“It shows farmers’ democratic awareness is improving,
but unfortunately their sense of law and order has not
improved as quickly.”

Mr Chen, who has studied mainland agricultural issues
for more than 20 years, is the key official credited
with drafting a series of central government documents
in the past two years that have helped reduce farmers’
tax burden and allocated more funds to boost
agricultural production.

Uncharacteristic of officials’ usual aversion to
sensitive issues, Mr Chen is ready to admit the
problems and discuss policy from a unique perspective.

Referring to several damning reports on the plight of
farmers that have attracted international attention in
recent years, he said more protests had gone

“There are at least 3 million villages across the
country and you can imagine how many problems crop up
each day,” he said.

“If there are 30,000 villages having problems, that
accounts for only 1 per cent of the total. People have
to look at this from a national perspective and
against a backdrop of phenomenal social and economic
changes taking place.

“Overseas media tend to play up the riots, and it is
their job to do so. But you have to remember, things
are getting better for farmers generally and few of
them would tell you that they want to go back to the
past, despite their complaints.”

Mr Chen hailed the role of the media and internet in
reporting the riots, which he said enabled the higher
authorities to act quickly.

“Now, thanks to the internet, any incident will
quickly come to the attention of the highest level of
mainland leadership. In the past, they could easily be
covered up by local officials,” he said.

He said as China was going through a critical stage of
reform, the interests of certain groups like farmers
could be easily hurt.

July 5, 2005 @ 11:29 am | Comment

aah. read that on simon’s world. thanks though. also found an interesting article with him saying something about eliminating 25,000 township governments….strange duck this one. intriguing.

July 5, 2005 @ 11:33 am | Comment

Echo, I just posted the below paragraph from a Reuters article on Simonworld as well. This actually quotes Mr. Chen unlike the SCMP.

Actually, there is a quite excellent discussion going on with regard to the article about Chen Xiwen that Richard kindly posted above. ESWN, Dylan, Jing and, of course, my good self (!) are all involved.
“It shows farmers’ democratic awareness is improving, but unfortunately their sense of law and order has not improved as quickly,” Chen, who was in charge of agricultural policy, was quoted as saying.
————————————————– (

July 5, 2005 @ 8:42 pm | Comment

thanks for the link. tried to post at simon’s place first, but things got a little wonky when I forgot I have to use email over there, or perhaps I had two windows open and posted in the wrong one, been doing that a bit lately too. sigh.

right now, in one of those amusing little ironies, my browser/connection is stalling on every site save the peking duck ; )

July 6, 2005 @ 8:24 pm | Comment

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