Nearly 1,000 farmers in eastern China on Friday clashed with hundreds of security forces sent to enforce the demolition of their homes, which officials called “illegal structures,” leaving dozens injured, witnesses said.
The skirmish, during which the farmers and police lobbed bricks and rocks at one another, took place in the Wenzhou area of Zhejiang province.
Police had been dispatched to Xiaobao village by officials in governing Cangnan county’s Wangli township to escort a demolition team tasked with “clearing illegal construction.”
The farmers are amongst the poorest residents of Xiaobao village and had built their makeshift shelters after their homes had been destroyed in a fire several years ago.
When police arrived to enforce the demolition, the farmers fought fiercely to defend the lean-tos, witnesses said, and were joined by other residents of the village.
The ensuing violence left “dozens” of villagers and “some” police wounded, as well as several police cruisers smashed, according to witnesses.
At least three villagers were detained during the melee.
“I heard about the fighting in the village,” one villager, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFA on Monday.
“There are dozens of villagers wounded. Three peasants have been taken away by police,” the man said.
Another villager surnamed Liu said the skirmish lasted for hours.
“The township government sent three or four hundred to demolish the houses, sparking a clash that lasted for about two hours,” he said.
No other options
A villager surnamed Gao said that the villagers had no other options for places to live now that their homes had been torn down.
“Their houses were temporary constructions built after a fire several years ago,” Gao said.
“The government said they were illegal buildings that should be demolished, but they didn’t provide any help in resettling the owners,” he said.
“Where can they stay now?” he asked.
A phone call to the Wangli township government office was answered by an employee, but he said he was unaware of the incident.
“No, I don’t know the case you are asking about,” he said.
“The person who is in charge is not in the office today.”
In China, all land is ultimately owned by the state, but is allocated to rural communities under collective contract and through the household responsibility system that replaced the state-run farms and communes of the Mao era.
Land acquisition for development, often resulting in lucrative property deals for local officials, sparks thousands of protests by local communities across China every month, many of which escalate into clashes with police.
In recent years, property owners all over China have complained that existing leasehold contracts are being flouted by local officials and developers keen to swell revenue coffers with lucrative land deals.
China already sees thousands of “mass incidents” across the country every year, according to official statistics.
Many of these are protests or sit-ins linked to forced evictions, allegations of corruption, or disputes over land sales.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Ping Chen.