HONG KONG—Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have detained four villagers following clashes this week between police and local residents over a disputed sale of farmland which left six people in hospital.
Work on a planned economic development zone in Shuidong township near Guangdong’s Maoming city has halted following the standoff, which villagers said left three people seriously injured.
“The villagers broke through the perimeter wall of the construction site,” a local resident who attended the protest said.
“The wall collapsed. We haven’t seen any workers going in or out, so it seems as if work has stopped for the time being.”
“Things are normal in the village now. No one is protesting.”
Clashes broke out Tuesday when more than 100 villagers converged on the construction site to block the way of construction workers and machinery.
An official who answered the phone at the Shuidong No. 1 Detention Center Thursday confirmed that some people were being held there following the clashes.
But he said, “I can’t tell you what they are being charged with or when they will be released. You will have to call the police for that.”
An employee who answered the phone at the local police station declined to answer questions about the incident.
“The government took away our land, so we were going to snatch it back again,” a resident of Dianbai village near Maoming city surnamed Wu said.
“But they wouldn’t let us have it.”
He said around 100 villagers had marched to the site to get in the way of construction work.
“There were older people, of 50 or 60, women, elderly, and children. All went along,” Wu said.
“The clashes started when we tried to stop work on the site. The police were beating up a lot of people, and many were injured. There are still a few people in the People’s Hospital. There were about 50 police officers,” he added.
Residents said the Dianbai village land dispute dates back to 1993, when a village-level official sold a plot of land to a commercial developer without the full agreement of all the villagers.
Since then, the area of tillable land in Dianbai has fallen to just 500 mu (33 hectares) from around 1,100 mu (73 hectares).
Repeated attempts by villagers to protest against the deal and win fair compensation for the loss of their land have met with stonewalling from government officials and suppression by the police in recent years.
Calls to the Shuiding township government offices and the neighboring Pengcun village Party committee went unanswered during office hours Thursday.
“Just recently they started work on the construction site, so we tried to stop them. Officials from the development zone and the local commercial arm of the Party committee told us not to make such a fuss,” a second resident surnamed Wu said.
“They said that they would work to address our grievances while construction was going on. Well, the building got built, but our grievances were never addressed.”
Some of the leaders of the protest were detained and are still being held in the Dianbai No. 1 Detention Center, villagers said, vowing to continue their protest in the absence of any compensation from the government.
“There used to be mountains behind our village, but they grabbed the land and flattened them. There is sea to the front of the village, but they requisitioned that land too, and now they are building an economic development zone on reclaimed land,” a fourth villager said.
Land disputes have spread across China in recent years, with local people often complaining that they receive only minimal compensation when the government sells tracts to developers in lucrative property deals.
Attempts to occupy disputed land frequently result in violent clashes, as police and armed gangs are brought in to enforce the will of local officials.
Original reporting in Cantonese by Fung Yat-yiu and in Mandarin by Yan Xiu. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.