HONG KONG—Thousands of villagers have clashed with police in recent days in the southwestern Chinese region of Guangxi over harsh measures they say are being used by local family planning officials keen to keep births down, villagers said.
An employee of Guangxi Family Planning Committee confirmed the riots. “There are indeed riots, but we are not authorized to make any public announcement,” the official told RFA’s Mandarin service. “It's hard to say who's to blame for what happened. The incidents are still under investigation.”
Tensions rose in Ziliang township, Rong county, after police raided households that had given birth to an additional child without permission, detaining elderly family members and confiscating all their possessions, villagers told RFA's Cantonese service.
Residents of Shabei village gathered outside the government buildings in Ziliang, sparking clashes with riot squads from the People's Armed Police sent in to control them. “Around 10 people were detained for disturbing public order, and at least 10 people were injured,” a villager surnamed Yuen said.
Yuen said the raid took place after a concerted attempt by villagers from Shabei, Wangmao, Shuiming, and Nabo to send representatives to Beijing to lodge an official complaint against their local family planning department. But he said all the villages were under guard by riot police, with police stopping people at all public transport stations, asking questions.
One local resident and civil rights campaigner, identified only by his surname Li, was detained in the early hours of Tuesday morning and released Wednesday. Li told RFA he had been detained after he published details of the local unrest on the Internet. He said the authorities had accused him of “inciting local people to protest.”
A resident of Lingshan township, also in Rong county, said the authorities had recently approached villagers in his area to talk about lowering the fine for additional births not permitted under China's one-child family planning rules. Fines had been cut following negotiations from 10,000 yuan (U.S. $1,300) to 8,000 yuan (U.S. $1,045), he said.
“Our local family planning policies here are a mess. Before, they were very lax about implementing them, but now suddenly they have seen that there is great profit in it for them, so they have started arresting people willy-nilly,” said the Lingshan villager, surnamed Guo.
Local residents said they had been told by the authorities following the clashes that confiscated goods and furniture would now be returned to them.
An official at the Ziliang township government offices denied any incident had taken place.
One witness, who works at a local credit union, said riots had erupted at several locations. “Six thousand to 10,000 people are involved,” the man said.
According to one Bobai villager, residents attacked the home of a senior local family planning enforcement official's home in Wang Mao township on May 23. “Villagers set the official's house on fire on Wednesday, but no one was hurt,” the resident said.
Another witness, an employee of Bobai’s Shui Ming High School, said: “People clashed with policemen. Many students from every school are also involved in the riots. They are from elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. They [the authorities] would take away their furniture if they don't pay enough in fines.”
“About a dozen students were detained. Some students are still not released. Some policemen were also injured. I heard that two policemen were wounded. I am afraid of watching the riots. It's too gruesome. People get bloody. Police arrested those who threw rocks. Government buildings were smashed.”
A Bobai police officer said detained villagers would be dealt with according to law.
An employee of Sha He township denied that 3,000 villagers surrounded local government building on Wednesday, May 23rd. "Some rumors on the Internet are out of proportion. There may be some scattered unrest, but they were blown up on the Internet.”
A villager from Shui Ming said he was on the run with some 100 fellow villagers. “We escaped to the mountains, [there is] nothing we can do. We hope our escape can buy us some time… The authorities will check to see if you have a marriage certificate or child-bearing permit. If you don't have those papers, they fine you.”
A Shui Ming villager said he had been fined previously and was now in trouble again. “Last year the family planning enforcement officials came to my home and told me to keep the child and we paid several hundred yuan as a fine,” said the villager, who asked to be identified as Deng.
This time, however, authorities have targeted him again and seized property valued at 80,000 yuan from his Deng’s electronics store. Deng said he had four children, three girls and a boy, and has been fined tens of thousands of yuan. He added that other villagers were also fined 30,000 and 40,000 yuan.
At the local government building, he said, “there are many police and troops and vehicles. Several dozen people have been arrested.”
The situation on the ground in Shui Ming remained unclear at the end of the week, with local residents giving conflicting accounts of unrest.
Tensions are running high in Guangxi, which has seen a wave of protests related to its family planning regime in the last month, including a large riot in Bobai county on May 17.
Locals say the trouble began after officials launched a harsh campaign to rein in “excess births” and strictly enforce the one-child-per-family rule imposed nationwide since 1979 to curb China's soaring population growth.
Those deemed to have broken the rule at any time since 1980 without paying the requisite fine were served a notice ordering them to pay exorbitant “social support fees” or face the consequences.
In April, the authorities in Guangxi's Baise city forced dozens of pregnant women to a hospital in Baise city to undergo abortions, some as late as nine months, the women and their relatives told RFA.
A government spokesman in Yulin city denied reports Thursday that police used water cannons to disperse crowds, that a number of students were trampled to death, and that four died in the May 17 incident.
He also denied reports that older women and high-school girls had undergone forced sterilizations in Bobai county. He said the government would make efforts to improve its work style following the unrest.
China's official Xinhua news agency said 28 people had been detained following the Bobai clashes, which local officials said were caused by troublemakers playing on discontent at population controls. It said the population of Bobai had tripled 490,000 at the beginning of communist rule in 1949 to about 1.6 million now.
Original reporting by Yan Ming and Gao Shan for RFA’s Mandarin service and Fung Yat-yiu for RFA’s Cantonese services. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. RFA Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.