Xinhua sets the record straight on Dongzhou riots

Xinhua tells us we should all relax. The only reason for the recent carnage in Guangzhou was the dastardly work of hooligan “instigators,” whom the masses blindly followed. The government was blameless.

Hundreds of villagers incited by a few instigators violently attacked a wind power plant on Dec. 6, and assaulted the police, the Information Office of the city government of Shanwei in south China’s Guangdong Province said here Saturday. In an investigation report of the incident, the office called the armed assault a serious violation of law.

According to the official recount, the instigators led by Huang Xijun engineered and organized some villagers in Dongzhoukeng and Shigongzhai to illegally besiege and attack a local wind power plant at noon on Dec. 5 and Dec. 6.

The first assault on Dec. 5 caused a seven-hour suspension of the plant’s power generation. In the second onslaught, over 170 armed villagers led by instigators Huang Xijun, Lin Hanru and Huang Xirang used in the attack knives, steel spears, sticks, dynamite powder, bottles filled with petroleum, and fishing detonators.

Police moving in to maintain order were forced to throw tear shells to break up the armed besiege, and arrested two insurgents. However, Huang Xijun mobilized over 300 armed villagers to form a blockade on the road to Shigongzhai Village to obstruct the return passage of the police, in attempt to threaten the police to release the arrested insurgents. For a moment, many besiegers intended to quit following the persuasion shouted by the police. However, they were forced to stay in protest under the threat reinforced by the instigators, according to the report. Instigator Lin Hanru shouted through a loudspeaker that they would throw detonators to the police and blow the wind power plant, if the police refused to retreat.

It became dark when the chaotic mob began to throw explosives at the police. Police were forced to open fire in alarm. In the chaos, three villagers died, eight were injured with three of them fatally injured. Concerned government departments are still investigating in the exact cause of the death.

The Information Office said that the instigators with Huang Xijun at the core had incited villagers to join in armed protests since June, using villagers’ discontents over a land requisition of a coal-fired power plant in Dongzhoukeng Village as the excuse. They frequently formed armed protests in the construction ground of the coal-fired power plant, blocked public traffic, attacked government offices and even illegally detained people and vehicles passing through the village to threat the local government to approve more compensation fund in land requisition.

In order to magnify the effect of their protests, the instigators hatched the assault of the wind power plant in Shigongzhai Village, which had no relations with their former request for fund concerning the land requisition in Dongzhoukeng Village. The provincial government of Guangdong pays great attention to the Dec. 6 Incident. A special work group has been established to investigate in the incident, according to the Information Office.

I’m glad a special work group has been set up. See, the governemnt does care.

But I have to ask: Would these villagers simply follow the “instigators” blindly, to the point ot taking up arms and attacking the power plant and risking their lives, simply because the instigators said it would be a cool thing to do? Would they do this without a lot of pent-up rage behind them, rage at local officials for their lack of concern over the pollution the power plant threatened to create? Rage over the government’s casual seizure of their land?

I don’t know. Looking at other reports, I’d say there may be a bit more to this story than Xinhua’s letting on (and I realize Lisa has covered these things in her earlier excellent posts).

“We are really scared. We need your help. The riot police are at the entrance of our village. There are several hundred of them, between 400 and 500,” one villager said in an interview that was cut off several times. “They were firing shots. But they were afraid to move in. We had blocked the roads with water pipes, gasoline and detonators,” another villager said. “And there were about 10,000 villagers there. We tried calling the central government several times for help. But all we got was answering machines.”

Riot police have now crashed through roadblocks set up by villagers and dismantled their tents near the power plant. Villagers have retreated back to Dongzhou village, they said. Li Min, deputy mayor of Shanwei and chief of public security, asked to comment by phone, said only, “I don’t know” and hung up. Guangdong provincial public security offices and the Guangdong provincial government went unanswered. A duty officer at the Dongzhou police station said, “I am not familiar with the situation.” Asked to confirm that two villagers had died, he said, “There is no such thing,” and hung up.

Forthright and transparent as ever, the local government dispays the compassion and willingness to share that has made it the darling of its citizens. Thank God the little people are in such capable hands. God knows, they need all the protection they can get from those instigators, who would dare to place the health and welfare of the people above the need for what really matters: ensuring harmony and seeing that officials get their fair cut of bribes from ventures that will poison their citizens and further destroy the environment. Reform marches on.

Update: Howard French has another update on this horror story, with plenty of gruesome details.

Dongzhou, however, is close to Hong Kong, whose television signals reach here easily, and news of the killings has spread rapidly, despite the officially imposed silence in Chinese media. In the last 24 hours, Chinese language Web sites have carried abundant reports on the killings, often picked up from foreign news outlets, and commented upon them endlessly and often angrily.

Dongzhou’s villagers, with little hesitation and much outrage, recounted more details of the events in numerous telephone calls on Saturday. Still, most asked not to be identified. Their accounts suggested a range of possible casualties. They identified four dead villagers, three of whom they said were taken to a local clinic, and said the fourth body was taken to a hospital in Shanwei. But they also spoke with conviction about other casualties, though often with sketchier details.

“I was not at the scene that night, but after I heard some people were shot dead, I went to the clinic and saw three dead bodies there,” said a man who gave his name only as Chang. “The next day, I heard there were several bodies lying by the road, where tragedy took place. I went there and saw seven or eight bodies lying there in a row, surrounded by many policemen, who were denying the families’ attempts to claiming for the bodies.”

Numerous accounts said that the authorities had thrown corpses into the sea and burned bodies after the killings. Villagers said they had counted 13 bodies floating on the sea. Villagers also said that several times over the last few days, female residents had approached the police, who are still present in Dongzhou in large numbers, to beg that the bodies of relatives be released. Others said that people had quickly buried the bodies of their relatives so they could not be destroyed by the police to cover up evidence of the killings.

In another reported episode, six unarmed men from the village fled the violence, climbing a nearby hilltop, where they were pursued by the police and shot, leaving only one survivor, whose account was repeated by villagers on Saturday. Some of the dead, the account said, were wounded from afar and then killed by the police at close range.

The confrontation on Tuesday was the culmination of months of tension over the construction of a coal-fired power plant. Villagers said they had not been adequately compensated for the use of their land – less than $3 per family, one said – and feared pollution from the plant would destroy their livelihood as fishermen. The plans called for the village’s bay to be reclaimed with landfill.

Municipal officials here have been circulating the area, blaming the villagers for initiating the violence. They said that the villagers used fireworks, blasting caps and other small explosives, and that they had rejected a generous settlement for the use of the land.

“I’m a good friend of Dongzhou people,” one party official said by megaphone as he toured the village on Saturday. “Nobody wants to see anything like what happened here on the night of Dec. 6, but the people of this village are too barbaric. We were forced to open fire.”

A 16-year-old boy who said he was in the crowd when the police began to fire said: “We didn’t use explosives, because we were too far away. Someone may have tried, but there’s no way we could have reached them.”

I’m wondering, once we learn more, who will be shown to be the “barbaric” ones.

The Discussion: 37 Comments

Richard, I feel so much better about this whole unfortunate incident now! Thank you, Xinhua!

/ snark

December 10, 2005 @ 10:03 pm | Comment

And by the way, another good story in today’s LA TIMES that delves into the central/local government question:

Residents said the police who opened fired Tuesday appeared to be from the area, but reinforcements sent later were outsiders equipped with armor, shields and machine guns. Experts said it was unclear whether local police had panicked and exceeded their authority, or whether there had been a policy shift by the central government.

“Part of the pattern is continued tension and inadequate central control over local governments,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of the New York-based Human Rights in China. “This doesn’t take Beijing off the hook, but there are tensions between local police and other arms of government. It’s not a monolith.”

Jean-Philippe Beja, a senor fellow with the Paris-based Center for International Studies and Research, said the central government usually opposes strong shows of force. But indications are that Beijing also gave more authority to local officials to deal with unrest after villagers in Taishi, also in Guangdong province, tried to eject a local official over corruption charges.

If this indicates an escalation of force on the part of the central government, things are going to get very ugly.

December 10, 2005 @ 10:26 pm | Comment

I’m afraid things already are very ugly.

December 10, 2005 @ 10:36 pm | Comment

I mean, “massive social collapse” level ugly…

I just pontificated at length about this on my blog, let me know if it’s something you’d like me to cross-post here…

December 10, 2005 @ 11:08 pm | Comment

latest news:

the official who ordered the use of gun has been arrrested.

December 10, 2005 @ 11:32 pm | Comment

Sun Bin – do you have a link? Can you tell us more?

December 10, 2005 @ 11:38 pm | Comment

BEIJING, Dec 11 (AFP) — The official who gave the order for security forces to open fire on a group of demonstrators in southern China last week, killing at least three people, has been arrested, state media said Sunday.

The official Guangzhou Daily newspaper did not give the name or title of the official or specify when he had been detained but said he had been arrested for his decision to open fire on the villagers’ demonstration.

“The commanding officer on the scene mishandled the situation, causing accidental deaths and injuries. The Shanwei prosecutor decided to arrest him under the penal code,” the paper said.

When interviewed by AFP, Liu Jingmao, the deputy head of Shanwei’s communication department refused to provide further details, including the officer’s name.

China had imposed a media blackout on the incident but broke its silence Saturday, acknowledging demonstrators were killed when police opened fire and put the death toll at three — fewer than the dozens described by residents.

The official Xinhua news agency said police fired into a mob of explosives-lobbing protesters after being blockaded near Shanwei city, Guangdong province, on Tuesday.

Hundreds of armed villagers had earlier attacked them in a “serious violation of the law”, Xinhua said, quoting a Shanwei government report.

One villager said on condition of anonymity that 30 people were killed while the New York Times quoted residents as saying that “as many as 20” died.

The Guangzhou Daily said that local authorities were treating the shooting seriously and that a special commission had been established to investigate the incident.

December 10, 2005 @ 11:49 pm | Comment

And thank you, Dylan!

December 10, 2005 @ 11:51 pm | Comment

the chinese report basically said the same thing. guangzhou daily is the source.

it seems to say the arrested person is a police officer. i expect an investigation, and i doubt the police officer would act on his own.

http://tw.news.yahoo.com/051211/4/2mo6s.html

http://news.sina.com.hk/cgi-bin/news/show_news.int.cgi?id=148898&date=2005-12-11&ct=instant

December 11, 2005 @ 12:27 am | Comment

Thanks, Sun Bin!

December 11, 2005 @ 12:36 am | Comment

I don’t know what to make of this.

On the one hand, the government has admitted that some folks were killed (in what seems like record-breaking speed compared to say their acknowledgement of SARS, the Avian Flu, or even the recent benzens spill in Harbin).

On the other hand, maybe the central govt. is picking up tips from the Karl Rove school of spin and putting out its version of the events as quickly as it can to try to trump the rumors.

I definitely feel that the propagandists in the Chinese government have become increasingly more sophisticated. Might the benefits of the increased flow of information to the masses be countered by increasing effectiveness of state propaganda?

December 11, 2005 @ 12:37 am | Comment

Now that an official scapegoat has been designated, Shanwei City can get on with the pressing business of building a power plant on the ruins of Dongzhou village. These aren’t really land “seizures”. Think of them as long term rental agreements with the central government. As compensation goes, 15 yuan a month per person isn’t really such a bad deal. That’s five bowls of wonton noodles at some local dives.

December 11, 2005 @ 12:38 am | Comment

caliboy: I definitely feel that the propagandists in the Chinese government have become increasingly more sophisticated. Might the benefits of the increased flow of information to the masses be countered by increasing effectiveness of state propaganda?

I’m afraid that on the subject of propaganda, both the Democratic and Republican parties have much to learn from China. China’s written history is one of the finest works of propaganda on record. The communist party is merely the current heir to an ancient tradition.

December 11, 2005 @ 12:43 am | Comment

i don’t think the story ends here. (esp if songhua can be a reference).

so don;t jump to conclusion yet.

more will be unfolded in the coming week(s).

December 11, 2005 @ 1:05 am | Comment

“…the people of this village are too barbaric. That is why we opened fire.”

Isn’t that what the SS used to say whenever they wiped out a village?

December 11, 2005 @ 1:47 am | Comment

Also, the Communist contempt for peasants bas been endemic throughout the Party, throughout history – both in Russia and in China.
That’s one of the few things most Communists agree on: “Peasants are barbarians” to be exploited and wiped out if necessary.

Marx started it. Marx had nothing but contempt for peasants. Consequently, Marx has always had especial appeal for effete, privileged intellectuals who know nothing about agrarian life, etc

December 11, 2005 @ 1:55 am | Comment

Zhang Fei, care to explain why chinese written history is a ‘work of propaganda’ ? To qualify some work as propaganda you need to prove the intention of the work is to misinform rather than to inform. As far as I can see, the primary goal of Chinese canonical histories compliers was to keep records of history. Of course some of them are rather biased against their subject dynasty, but calling them ‘work of proganda’ goes to far.

Also, why Chinese written history has anything to do with CCP’s propaganda policy?

December 11, 2005 @ 1:55 am | Comment

Ivan, are you Zhang Fei? ๐Ÿ™‚

December 11, 2005 @ 2:03 am | Comment

I like this extract:

“Asked to confirm that two villagers had died, he said, “There is no such thing,” and hung up.”

Yes, there is no such thing as a dead civilian shot by the State security services in the PRC. It never happens.

December 11, 2005 @ 4:49 am | Comment

Ivan:

“Isn’t that what the SS used to say whenever they wiped out a village?”

Well said. It’s up the security services to show restraint. If you come under attack, why can’t you back off? It’s not as if they were surrounded and had to fight to the death.

I think this is an example of how far the Chinese Police have to go. In Northern Ireland the Police came under attack every day, but there wasn’t a Bloody Sunday every week because they were trained to not inflame things (Bloody Sunday wasn’t the RUC anyway – it was the Paras). Whereas their Chinese counterparts don’t really get the “serving the community bit” IMO – they think they need to catch criminals and keep law & order however they can. Thus they’re more likely to over-react and go “HULK SMASH!”

It’s worth noting that they were using rubber bullets on the demonstrators before the Molotovs were brought out. Not that it justified it, but I doubt these people knew what rubber bullets were. They probably thought that they were being shot at already (and thus required a response).

December 11, 2005 @ 4:56 am | Comment

Sunday Shorts

The unlinkable South China Morning Post reports today that GlaxoSmithKline has decided to pull its ‘time bomb’ ads (shown here).

The Indian state of Rajasthan has released “a set of guidelines to avoid any embarrassing situation for foreign tour…

December 11, 2005 @ 5:28 am | Comment

http://tinyurl.com/awqre

Petrol bombs + Police = no shootings

Why does China have to be any different?

December 11, 2005 @ 7:09 am | Comment

What is notable about the Dongzhou shootings is that the power station is a central government project, and the police deployed weren’t really local police*, but the People’s Armed Police (PAP), an arm of China’s military – and thus central government – whose function is to fight domestic rebels. (In addition to automatic rifles, they are armed with grenades, armored personnel carriers and anti-tank weapons). And yet the announcement of the arrest of a PAP commander for the shootings was sloughed off to a paper in Guangdong’s provincial capital, Guangzhou. In spite of the facts on the ground, which point to central government involvement in the shootings, the Chinese government is clearly trying to reinforce – in the minds of the Chinese public – the ancient historical narrative that revolved around corrupt local officials held in check by a benevolent central government, which also happens to be the Chinese empire’s traditional raison d’etre. The reaction of Dongzhou’s villagers indicates that they are highly receptive to this kind of pitch. The dead will be cremated and life will go on. It will be as if the shootings had never occurred.

December 11, 2005 @ 10:57 am | Comment

It has been reported that a villager in Dongzhou was offered 2000 yuan in “condolence money” by the Chinese government. That sum is less than the 3000 to 4000 yuan typically required for funeral costs. It appears the government’s response is to appear conciliatory while continuing to stiff-arm the families of the shooting victims, never mind the residents whose land (and homes) have been seized.

December 11, 2005 @ 12:47 pm | Comment

PAP is under local command.
it is not an arm of PLA.

the pentagon reports wanted to inflated China’s milatary spending and tried to classify them as under PLA. this is one of the many misleading info from the pentagon (and related) reports.

December 11, 2005 @ 3:06 pm | Comment

sb: “PAP is under local command.
it is not an arm of PLA.”

The PAP is not under local command. Even the local police are under national command. I never said that it’s an arm of the PLA. It used to be. These are soldiers not under the organizational structure of the PLA.

sb: “the pentagon reports wanted to inflated China’s milatary spending and tried to classify them as under PLA. this is one of the many misleading info from the pentagon (and related) reports.”

The Chinese government is attempting to deflate China’s military spending by classifying these troops as policemen. Two points – (1) the People’s Armed Police are troops detached from the PLA (only from an organizational standpoint – they’re still soldiers similar to Russia’s OMON) and (2) they are armed with weaponry carried over from the PLA such as automatic rifles, grenades, RPG’s and armored personnel carriers.

December 11, 2005 @ 3:31 pm | Comment

it is matrix organization, like many other functional department (e.g., SEPA)

“ร”รšร–ยดรรยนยซยฐยฒรˆรŽรŽรฑยบรรร ยนร˜ร’ยตรŽรฑยฝยจร‰รจยทยฝรƒรฆยฃยฌรŽรคยพยฏยฒยฟยถร“ยฝร“รŠรœรยฌยผยถยนยซยฐยฒยฒยฟรƒร…ยตร„รรฌยตยผยบรร–ยธยปร“ยกยฃยฃยจร€ยดร”ยดยฃยบรˆร‹รƒรฑรŽรคยพยฏรรธ”

but when china is invaded, it would be under PLA.

December 11, 2005 @ 5:08 pm | Comment

the chinese code said,

“PAP will be under the leadership of Police Department when conducting public security related actions”

December 11, 2005 @ 5:10 pm | Comment

sb: “PAP will be under the leadership of Police Department when conducting public security related actions”

And the Chinese constitution decrees freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, etc. Fact one – the PAP, like the Police Department, report to the central government. Fact two – the PAP is armed with military weaponry like AK-47’s, grenades, anti-tank grenades, armored personnel carriers and mortars, not the pistols and batons typical of police forces. You can call a turkey an eagle, but that doesn’t make it one.

December 11, 2005 @ 7:37 pm | Comment

sb said:
“but when china is invaded, it would be under PLA”

The usual twisting words, far more accurate to admit sb that in a war (i.e. when China attacks someone not just when China is invaded) you would be a fool not to count the PAP as supplementing the PLA. Far more honest to admit that the PAP trains with the PLA. Far less evasive to admit that the vast majority of the “demobilised” PLA troops in the last few years have gone into the PAP, often by simply changing their unit designation and chain of command. So what exactly was the Pentagon exaggerating again?

December 11, 2005 @ 8:05 pm | Comment

For those so inclined, Shanwei City is a pretty scenic area to visit, roughly 2 hours out of Hong Kong*. Here’s the obligatory blurb:

“Shanwei is a costal city located on the southeast coast of Guangdong Province. The coastline of the Shanwei region runs 302 kilometres, of which much of it is beach. Located off it are 91 islets, separated from the mainland by mud flats and water in which shoals of fish can constantly be seen. Particularly spectacular costal islets include; Jinyu, Laiya, Guiling and Jiangmu.

As a result of its proximity to the sea, the region is favoured by an oceanic climate while being rich in fishing resources. And in addition to all its salt-water based attractions, there are also fresh-water attractions since Shanwei has 16 rivers, 18 reservoirs and a number of lakes.

While predominantly from the Han clan, the inhabitants of Shanwei are made up from 22 ethnic groups including the Zhuang and Dong. And during its long history many renowned figures have heralded from the region.

For a number of years, Shanwei has had a reputation as a “golden city” regarding tourism, earning itself a name as “the Little Hong Kong”.”

* Bus service has been temporarily halted, but should resume once the central government has carried out whatever steps necessary to reinstill the fear of god in the villagers of Dongzhou.

December 11, 2005 @ 9:15 pm | Comment

Zhang Fei:
“In spite of the facts on the ground, which point to central government involvement in the shootings, the Chinese government is clearly trying to reinforce – in the minds of the Chinese public – the ancient historical narrative that revolved around corrupt local officials held in check by a benevolent central government, which also happens to be the Chinese empire’s traditional raison d’etre. ”

The rationale for the Chinese empire wasn’t ‘corrupt local officials held in check by a benevolent central government’, it’s about ‘local officials moved by virtuosity of central government and follow the example’.

December 11, 2005 @ 10:09 pm | Comment

The basic problem is the central government’s theft of private property via eminent domain seizures without meaningful compensation. The villagers in question were offered 15 yuan ($2) each a month in return for losing their homes and their means of livelihood. It costs more than two hundred yuan a month to rent a one-bedroom apartment. (As one of the protestors said, 15 yuan isn’t even enough to buy a pack of toilet paper)*. If the government paid even 50% of the market rate, it could cut down significantly on the level of unrest. But it won’t, for two reasons. First, the communist government is founded on the wholesale theft of the entire nation’s private property in 1949 into the control of the party’s cadres, and the party is loathe to give up such an important perk – it is, after all, a license to steal. Second, the party has the guns and the villagers don’t.

* He’s exaggerating a little. You can buy a 10-pack of sandpaper-grade bog roll for less than 10 yuan. Of course, its primary alternate use includes prepping metal surfaces for paint jobs. And after using it, your rear end will glow in the dark – so you’ll never need a night light again for those moments when you get up in the a.m. to go to the bathroom. (OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a little).

December 12, 2005 @ 10:22 am | Comment

ZF,

this is simple organizational efficiency problem. do not mix it up with things like ‘freedom of speech’.

dylan,

the PAP only has the simplest weapons, rifles and pistol. it was designed for ‘people’s war’ if china was invaded.
it has no capability to launch any offensive effort.
no PAP was used in the war with vietnam, india, etc.
so please don’t make groundless allegation.

December 12, 2005 @ 11:44 am | Comment

SB,
utter BS. The PAP fields full divisions of motorised infantry (the units that were transferred across from the PLA since 1985) equipped with artillery, machine guns, armoured vehicles, helicopters, etc).

December 12, 2005 @ 5:09 pm | Comment

sb: “the PAP only has the simplest weapons, rifles and pistol. it was designed for ‘people’s war’ if china was invaded.
it has no capability to launch any offensive effort.
no PAP was used in the war with vietnam, india, etc.
so please don’t make groundless allegation.”

The name People’s Armed Police was first given to a number of PLA units starting in 1983. That’s a little late for both India and Vietnam.

December 14, 2005 @ 7:42 am | Comment

sb: “this is simple organizational efficiency problem. do not mix it up with things like ‘freedom of speech’.”

You suggested that the central government’s use of the word “police” to describe the PAP accurately depicted the PAP’s role. I am saying that the PAP are soldiers used to control internal unrest, not policemen charged with ordinary law enforcement duties. The fact that the government calls them police does not make them so – they are armed with too much weaponry that is used for warfighting and counter-insurgency operations, such as armored personnel carriers, automatic rifles, grenades, anti-tank weapons and mortars. My example of freedom of speech and assembly being guaranteed in the Chinese communist constitution is just another way of saying that the Chinese government’s words are not to be taken at face value.

December 14, 2005 @ 7:49 am | Comment

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