On the night of Dec. 6, in Dongzhou Township, near the southern Chinese port of Shanwei, armed police opened fire on thousands of angry villagers protesting compensation for land used to build a local power station.
Three people have been officially confirmed dead by the authorities, but many more are still missing. Villagers say that more than a dozen of their number were killed by riot police firing live ammunition. Police say protesters attacked first with home-made explosives, and that they reacted "in alarm".
RFA's Mandarin service reporter Lin Di took a bus trip to the closely guarded township, where few reporters have managed to travel so far, and where the media is confined to the official version of events. Here are some extracts from his report:
Dongzhou Township, Guangdong Province-- About five kilometers from Shanwei, my bus is stopped, and policemen board, checking the papers of every passenger. A fellow passenger whispers to me: "They are looking for Dongzhou villagers who have been on the run." Later, the ticket-seller on the bus tells me that the police never used to check passengers' papers, but that since the incident in Dongzhou they have been checking every day. I ask her what incident she is referring to, and she replies: "People died," but refuses to say any more.
On the way to Dongzhou village you can see banners and signs posted on the walls of houses lining the road. The closer you get to Dongzhou, the more signs there are. The notices read as follows: "Crack down on criminals. Maintain social stability. Do not believe rumors. Do not believe evil talk. Without justice, there can only be an evil atmosphere. Without the government, it will be hard to have peace. The government solidly supports the people of Dongzhou."
Among the banners festooned at the roadside are police notices, signed by the Shanwei public security bureau. Two were issued on Dec. 13. One orders residents to turn in explosives and knives. The other urges those wanted by the police to surrender. Nearly all the posters have been ripped, as if someone has been trying to tear them down.
In the township's busy People's Market shopping area, the People are reluctant to talk about the shootings. A grocery-store owner makes a start but stops himself short, saying only, "I don't want to talk about it."
Migrant workers from other parts of China to Dongzhou are a bit more forthcoming. One of them tells me: "When they started shooting people that day, I was afraid to go over there. But let me tell you something. About 100 meters from here there is a house by the road. The man who lived there died that night. It was only this morning that his wife and child were weeping at the People's Market. The police asked them to leave. In the past few days, there have been people weeping at the People's Market every day. The police take them away, saying that they will have a bad influence. But they keep on coming."
It's after dark. A villager points to a car parked by the side of the road. "See that car parked there? It belongs to the government. It doesn't have a tag indicating that it's public security. It's parked in front of the house of a man who was killed. It's there to stop people from going in and asking questions."
Much later, another villager accompanies me to the site where the shooting took place. He tells me that this was where the villagers tried to stop the armed police from Shanwei from advancing any farther. He says, "When they started shooting, we were stunned. We couldn't believe what was happening. All hell broke loose. More than a dozen people died."
Two other villagers tell me that more than a dozen people died that night, too, and also that many have fled Dongzhou and are now wanted by the police. Another villager says that anyone seen with a camera gets beaten by the police.
I see a poster issued by the government on Nov. 2 about the newly constructed power plant. Someone has stuck a poster beside it containing a report from the official Xinhua news agency dated March 3. The Xinhua report carries the headline: "According to the central government, the blind development of power plants must come to a halt."
Original reporting in Mandarin by Lin Di. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Edited by Luisetta Mudie.