HONG KONG—Peasants in southern China were beaten and detained in a clash with police last month after their land was secretly sold to developers by local cadres, the villagers said Tuesday.
A resident of Xiaba village, in China’s southern Guangdong province, said in an e-mail that repeated attempts to petition the provincial government for justice in the matter had yielded no results.
The villager, surnamed Yang, said the developers needed the land to build a power plant.
“The village committee ganged up with the local government in selling the land, and the committee got the money. They didn’t discuss the deal with us, nor did they inform us of it afterward,” Yang said.
More than 1,000 Xiaba villagers recently learned that village cadres had secretly sold nearly 350 mu (about 60 acres) of arable land they had used for generations as a source of sustenance farming.
The peasants received no compensation from the sale.
When the sale was discovered, Xiaba farmers said, the dealers claimed that only 170 mu (around 30 acres) of land had been traded.
Yang said the villagers have been demanding compensation from the government, but have only met with resistance.
“We have nothing left now because they have sold all our arable land. We want compensation, but they beat up us and detained 10 villagers,” he said.
Last year, three Xiaba villagers were detained during protests against the planned construction of the new power plant. In March of this year, another seven were detained and have not yet been released.
Another villager, also surnamed Yang, described the March confrontation.
“It was around 10 p.m. on March 21. As we traveled to petition the provincial government in Guangzhou, local police stopped our vehicles, attacking and chasing us. There were more than 100 villagers involved,” Yang said.
In photos provided by villagers, police are shown using batons to assault petitioning peasants, leaving at least one villager’s face covered in blood.
Another villager, who asked to remain anonymous, said the residents felt compelled to “complain to high heaven to let our sufferings be known.”
Village chief fingered
Farmers accused village committee chief Yang Jiaquan of masterminding the illegal land sale and said he was guilty of embezzlement.
A villager who did not provide his name said attempts to confront the village committee chief were unsuccessful.
“Several days ago, we went to his home to request the release of detained friends, but he called on security guards to throw urine on us farmers,” the villager said.
Phone calls to the Liucheng township government, which supervises Xiaba village, and the village committee went unanswered on Tuesday.
People who answered the phone at Yang Jiaquan’s home said Yang was not home and that he knew nothing about the land sale.
Villagers said they have posted petition letters on the Internet and sent them to media outlets in China but no one has offered to help with their grievances.
Land disputes common
Profits from new property developments in China can swell local coffers and boost tax revenues to the central government in Beijing.
China's "Regulation on Petitions," issued by the State Council, states that petitioners may voice their grievances to higher-level government offices.
But those trying to do so are frequently held in unofficial detention centers, or "black jails," before being taken back to their hometowns.
Many petitioners have spent years pursuing complaints against local officials over disputes including the loss of homes and farmland, unpaid wages and pensions, and alleged mistreatment by the authorities.
Few report getting a satisfactory result, and most say they have become a target of further harassment by the authorities.
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 or evicts them from their homes in downtown areas.
Attempts to occupy disputed property frequently result in violent clashes, as police and armed gangs are brought in to enforce the will of local officials.
Original reporting by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Ping Chen. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.