Dongzhou Update

I think we have a serious mess on our hands, and the CCP realizes that.

The commander of paramilitary forces who opened fire on villagers protesting land seizures has been detained by the authorities in connection with the shootings, an extraordinary response that suggested high-level concern over whether the crackdown was justified.

The official New China News Agency said in a dispatch Saturday evening that three people had been killed and eight others injured after security forces shot protesters in the village of Dongzhou in Guangdong Province on Tuesday. Villagers have given varying estimates of the death toll, including some who said as many as 20 people had been killed.

Guangdong’s provincial government issued a statement Sunday saying that the “wrong actions” of the commander, who was not identified by unit or rank, were to blame for the deaths. The statement said he had been detained by civilian authorities in the area.

An earlier official account quoting local authorities laid blame for the violence exclusively on villagers. It said local residents, led by three men, first attacked a power plant at the center of a land dispute and then turned on the police, using weapons including spears, knives and dynamite, compelling security forces to put down the insurrection forcibly.

The whole thing is extraordinary. Hundreds of riots occur in China every day, but, as the article says, police and paramilitary forces rarely shoot civilian demonstrators. Xinhua, as I posted yesterday, put out a lengthy article claiming it was all about thuggish “instigators” who were wickedly inciting the villagers, who the poor law enforecement officials were “forced” to shoot down. And within 12 hours, that Xinhua article vanished. Somewhere within that period of time someone in the government apparently realized just how serious a mess this was, and that trying to scapegoat the demonstrators wasn;t going to work.

Meanwhile, since the Xinhua article came and went, there seems to be a blackout on news coming out of China; a Google News search shows it’s only the foreign press that’s covering it (with plenty of sensational coverage from Epoch Times, of course).

In the NYT article, Joseph Kahn notes,

Several Guangzhou newspapers have had reports about the matter, but national newspapers and Web sites have not even carried the New China News Agency report, suggesting extreme sensitivity on how people will react to the shootings.

Murray Scot Tanner, an expert on China’s security forces at the Rand Corporation, said Monday that the detention of a commander could signal fears that Chinese press reports about the incident may not be treated as credible. He said the authorities are highly reluctant to assign blame to police or paramilitary troops and almost never do so.

Chinese press reports, not credible? Imagine that. It’ll be so interesting to learn what’s really going on, and why the Party is so terrified.

Update: Daai Tou Laam has been doing a fine job covering this story. His withering critique of another blogger’s coverage of the story is certainly thought-provoking, as well.

The Discussion: 11 Comments

I think that the reversals and arrests and explanations and black-outs point to the factionalism in the government, not just local versus central but within the central government as well. Some kind of struggle for control has been going on since Hu and Wen took over. The problem is, it’s impossible to determine where all the factions line up, who’s supporting what and who’s on top at any given moment.

What happened in Dongzhou is extremely controversial and has the potential to be extremely damaging as well. I think what we’re seeing is not only damage control by the government but also a jostling for position and power between contending factions. One group tries to pin the blame on the peasants. When that doesn’t fly, it gives power to another group who shifts the blame to the paramilitary commander.

Of course, I could be totally wrong and completely full of shit. But that’s my armchair, amateur Sinologist best guess.

December 12, 2005 @ 12:57 am | Comment

Sounds like a situation that could be better explained. If hand bomb was used by protestors, I do not see anything wrong with shooting people who threw the bomb. In US, I think policeman will shoot the guy on the spot too.

December 12, 2005 @ 6:24 am | Comment

the mess in dongzhou

AsiaPundit is, for better or worse, a journalist by day. While blogging tradition is to shoot from the hip without a full array of evidence, the day job demands a bit more. On the Dongzhou incident, AP has been

December 12, 2005 @ 9:42 am | Comment

Why would the Chinese government give the order to shoot? To intimidate other potential protestors into submission. There’s a news blackout on the Dongzhou incident in China. Knowledge of the incident is scarce, even among people living in the region. But there’s just enough information for the Chinese public to know that some people were hurt in a protest. I expect that the commander’s arrest is meant as a concession to Western sensibilities – to pre-empt any thought of the kinds of economic sanctions that followed the Tiananmen Massacre.

December 12, 2005 @ 8:27 pm | Comment

steve: “In US, I think policeman will shoot the guy on the spot too.”

In the US, the government would not be stealing land and homes from poor farmers and giving them the equivalent of one pack of toilet paper a month as compensation. But in an indirect way, steve put his finger on it – the problem isn’t with PAP troops – it’s with a central government that allows such theft to continue. And yet the existing Chinese regime cannot repudiate the basic principle that it should be able to steal anything it wants – for this principle lies at the heart of the PRC’s founding.

December 12, 2005 @ 9:02 pm | Comment

The PAP military commander probably won’t be executed or even seriously punished. Even in the unlikely event that he made the decision to shoot on his own* – he merely did as he was told – keep the peasants under control, so that the central government can steal their land with a minimum of fuss. If he is executed or given a life term, other military commanders will balk at taking the necessary measures to keep these protests under control, and perhaps end up joining the protestors when other similar incidents occur. Except that protestors + military commanders + weapons = rebel army.

This is how the Qin dynasty signed its own death warrant 2000 years ago, as Qin officials like Liu Bang, the founder of the Han dynasty, rebelled when it became clear that he would not be able to deliver his region’s levy of conscripts to the capital on time – an offense for which he would have been executed by the central government. Liu ended up having these conscripts swear fealty to him, and went on to destroy the Qin dynasty in alliance with other disgruntled Qin officials and peasant militias.

The Chinese government is presumably familiar with these historical precedents and understands the importance of keeping a balance between keeping the allegiance of the people it charges with enforcing its arbitrary and unjust edicts and maintaining the respect (and fear) of the population at large for its authority. Severely punishing the official being scapegoated for the shootings would destroy that balance.

* Unlikely, given how (1) butt-covering is the Chinese national pastime, and (2) in China, good intentions are not a mitigating excuse, whereas obedience covers all sins.

December 13, 2005 @ 6:22 am | Comment

anyone come accross the text of the open letter referred to here?

December 13, 2005 @ 10:43 am | Comment

Found this on

More than 50 mainland scholars, writers and activists have signed an open letter condemning the deadly attacks on farmers in Dongzhou village.
The signatories included many prominent scholars, internet writers and dissidents such as Bao Zunxin , Liu Xiaobo , Yu Jie , Wang Yi , Zhao Dagong and Zhang Zuhua .

Ding Zilin , leader of the Tiananmen Mothers group who lost her son in the 1989 military crackdown, and Aids activist Wan Yanhai were also among the signatories who registered their anger about the violence in the Guangdong village.

“We express our strongest indignation and condemnation against the Guangdong authorities which made this bloody incident happen. We also strongly protest against the vicious attitude of the Chinese authorities for not making any public explanation, clarification or investigation,” the open letter says.

“We protest against the crude censorship by the mainland media of any reporting of the Dongzhou incident.”

The signatories called for severe punishment of the officials involved in the crackdown to send a clear message to other local officers.

They demanded a thorough investigation by the provincial and the national people’s congress, and journalists to be given a free hand to cover the incident.

They also called for an independent judicial system and political reforms, saying the “crippled” political changes of the past two decades had led to social polarisation and confrontations between the rich and poor.

Wang Yi, a prominent internet writer, said the intellectual community was shocked by the violent crackdown.

“It is just like backtracking to the situation 15 years ago [during the Tiananmen Square crackdown] and it is intolerable,” he said yesterday.

December 13, 2005 @ 10:59 am | Comment

Thanks Niubi4. That’s worth an update.

December 13, 2005 @ 11:15 am | Comment

In case ya’ll missed it – A CCP massacre that took more lives than Tiananmen Square, 9/11/01, and Hurricane Katrina combined.

December 13, 2005 @ 12:00 pm | Comment

The Rectification of Names: Dongzhou

The PRC government is trying to suppress information about the Dongzhou incident. They are blocking websites (not to worry: this blog is already blocked in China, I believe). They are not allowing reports in the domestic media about the

December 13, 2005 @ 8:08 pm | Comment

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