Yao Farmers Guard Fields

An ethnic minority group in China faces loss of farmland to 'development.'
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Farmers tend their crops near the airport in Kunming, in Yunnan province, June 27, 2012.
Farmers tend their crops near the airport in Kunming, in Yunnan province, June 27, 2012.

Ethnic minority farmers in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan have set up a vigil over their vegetable crops in a bid to fight the loss of their farmland to make way for a new tourist development, following protests and clashes at the weekend.

Residents of Guangji village near the provincial capital of Kunming marched through the streets of Jincheng township, holding banners that read, "We must unite and stand up, to save ourselves," "Land grabs are illegal," and, "With no land, we won't have a home."

"There were about 700 or 800 of us, protesting the illegal takeover of our farmland by the government," said a Guangji resident surnamed Li.

"The construction workers [beat us up]," he said. "They were hired by the government, and they were trying to get onto our land to take it over."

"But after they saw how many more of us there were, they left."

Round-the-clock guard

Li said the villagers had set up a round-the-clock guard on the fields.

"Whenever anyone from the government tries to get close, they stop them from going any further," he said. "We are watching over the land in shifts, several hundred of us."

"We have beaten back the construction workers," he said. "But if they send even more people in, I think it will be hard to avoid bloodshed."

A second villager surnamed Xu said the authorities were trying to take over more than 10,000 mu of farmland, under the pretext of building a tourist resort.

"The government has already made an agreement with the developer, but the compensation is very low," he said. "If we don't have our land, we don't know how we are supposed to make a living."

Repeated calls to Puning county government offices resulted in a busy signal during office hours on Monday.

Rich land

The land around Guangji is farmed by ethnic minority Yao farmers, who say it is worth far more than the government is offering them.

"The land around here is worth quite a lot of money," said Qi Shugao, head of Puning county's Guangji village. "The land is very rich in resources, and we can make a decent living."

He said villagers were able to earn between 20,000 and 40,000 yuan (U.S.$6,400) a year per mu (one-sixth of a hectare) from growing vegetables.

Qi said the local government's promise of 120,000 yuan in compensation for the lost farmland wasn't enough to replace the villagers' livelihood.

"Once the villagers lose their land, they will have no way to make a living," he said.

The standoff intensified at the weekend, with a large demonstration on Saturday, Qi said.

"The police were there, keeping the traffic working normally, and there weren't any physical clashes," he said.

He said the demonstrators marched along the local highway.

Different tactics

Posts to the Twitter-like service Sina Weibo said that the government had begun using "different tactics" to grab the land from villagers in Guangji.

A user identified as @xiaowei05 wrote: "People gathered outside the village committee offices waiting for an explanation from officials."

"The low compensation being offered by the government for this land is unreasonable, and this [agreement] hasn't been approved by the villagers."

The mountainous regions of southwestern Yunnan are home to some 2.6 million Yao, who have their own language and culture and are also recognized as a distinct ethnic group by Vietnam.

The Yao and Miao people were among the rebels during the Miao Rebellions against the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), but later retreated into what is now Yunnan with the Han expansion into southern China.

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.

Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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