HONG KONG—One villager was beaten to death and another is hospitalized in critical condition after a showdown between construction workers and residents on a small island in southern China's Pearl River delta.
“A man in his 40s whose surname was Chen and whose nickname was Daliu died en route to the hospital,” an eyewitness told RFA’s Mandarin service. “More than 10 people are injured and hospitalized … Of those hospitalized, one person is in critical condition.”
The confrontation occurred Tuesday, March 20, on Guanzhou Island, situated in a tributary of the Pearl River, in the Haizhu district of Guangzhou city. Three witnesses confirmed Chen’s death.
Villagers were already angry at the seizure of farm land by local officials at below-market rates to build an international biosphere as part of a controversial "College City" project.
Not only did he refuse, he summoned some people to beat us
Dozens of villagers gathered Tuesday in a show of support for another villager who had been injured by a dirt truck earlier that day, they said. The truck had struck a villager at the construction site of a tunnel that will connect Guanzhou Island, where the new biosphere project is located, with the island where the College City project is located. In a show of support for the injured villager, dozens of villagers demanded compensation from the truck driver.
“What happened was, the dirt truck hit a villager. The two sides got into a quarrel. The villagers demanded that he pay compensation for the injury. Not only did he refuse, he summoned some people to beat us,” one witness said.
“Things are very bad now. A villager was beaten to death. The situation is very complicated in Guanzhou. All land seizures here are illegal,” the witness said. A report Thursday in the Chinese-language Guangzhou Daily newspaper said those involved in the case had been detained and would be dealt with according to the law. The Haizhu district government had set up a special task force, it said, which will put the project on hold and will comfort and compensate the injured and the bereaved.
The report characterized the death as the result of an armed scuffle between construction workers and villagers brought on by a “traffic incident.” But Guanzhou Island residents told RFA that they considered the incident an armed assault on villagers. “Many of the villagers were just onlookers in their pajamas. Out of nowhere 30 to 40 people wearing hard hats with iron clubs in their hands descended upon the villagers,” one woman said.
“They started beating people indiscriminately, beating people over the head! They came prepared. None of the villagers was armed. We are very worried about the well-being of those in the hospital. One of them is critically injured. All he was doing was trying to break up the fight. And they beat him with iron clubs.”
Guanzhou villagers told RFA that the fatal incident was linked to the seizure of farm land for the construction of an international biosphere.
A villager surnamed Chen said: “Compensations related to the biosphere project are a mess. The villagers are totally against the project. At the end of last year they also dispatched some heavies to chop down our fruit trees. But they are backed by more senior officials. There is pressure from higher-up.”
Another villager, a woman, said, “This is not the first time that a protester was beaten to death over the construction of the biosphere. In the land-expropriation scheme for the College City project, there were many such violent incidents. But whatever deaths there were they were covered up and the news media were forbidden to report them.”
The Haizhu district government has expropriated more than 2,000 mu (1 mu = 0.165 acre) of land for the construction of the biosphere. Villagers claim they have been paid at below-market rates for the land and say they were coerced into signing the contract.
China's leaders have criticized the proliferation of College City projects which began to appear following a crackdown on unauthorized "development zones," often little more than a front for local government property scams.
In April 2004, an investigative report by RFA's Mandarin service found that local Guangdong officials had divided up land into parcels to get around central government restrictions on land acquisitions for construction projects.
Local residents, who had valid land leases and construction permits, were under increasing pressure to leave their homes to make way for a College City development.
But while central government is increasingly aware of the problem, recently passing a Property Law aimed at protecting property rights, enforcement of its directives at the local level happens only rarely.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Written for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han and edited by Luisetta Mudie.