HONG KONG — ; Villagers in the northern Chinese province of Shandong have sustained beatings and serious injury in a series of clashes with authorities over 30-year land-use contracts supposedly guaranteed by the state.
The trouble — ; which has landed one man seriously injured in hospital and led to the beatings of at least two other people by police — ; began in early March, when local officials tried to requisition land used by local farmers to grow food for their own households, a villager told RFA reporter Han Dongfang in a series of in-depth interviews.
"According to our national constitution, we should have this land under a 30-year responsibility contract. This is not something that has been given by the village, or by a single official. We are at the mercy of the People's Government," the villager said.
"If you want to do something with my land and I don't agree with you, you have to keep a certain distance. But here, the village party secretary makes a telephone call to the local police station and they come round and beat you up. There's still a man from our village called Wang Hongqi who is in the hospital [because of it]," he said.
He said Wang was beaten on about the 3rd of April. Two other beatings — ; of a married couple — ; took place probably the day before, he recalled. Local officials right up to district level said the villagers should do as they were told, because the land was required for afforestation to improve China's environmental problems.
Farmers in Wangjiahe Village in the Huancui district of Weihai city had been told that they were likely to have their contracts cancelled in five years' time at any rate, when land-use rights in the area would be changed. "I don't know if this is correct," the Wangjiahe farmer said. "It doesn't matter who's doing it, the local government or anyone else, they need to have a reasonable contract."
Under China's existing arrangements, all land belongs to the state, but land-use rights and limited leases can be sold and exchanged on the open market. Under the Household Responsibility System brought in by Deng Xiaoping in 1980, rural authorities contract land to the collective, often a village, which in turn distributes it to individual households.
Recent reforms by central government have attempted to strengthen the traditional 30-year contracts under the responsibility system, effectively giving farming families the right to use their land as they see fit during the term of their contract.
But the villagers of Wangjiahe say that the news has yet to reach officials in their area. "I have to think about my future, how I'm going to live, my personal interests. So I'm not doing this afforestation. I'm already more than forty. I'm not a youngster."
"The thing is, we've got a 30-year responsibility contract with the government, so they should use legal means to carry out afforestation. Now the government's attitude is changing somewhat. They are now saying you can do it if you want to, not if you don't. But to begin with they were trying to force people...there was a major clash."
The Wangjiahe village committee had initially tried to force the farmers into an arrangement whereby they received compensation for the loss of land needed to grow food to feed their families. "Everyone knows they are already in debt which they can't repay, so they certainly wouldn't have the money to pay this compensation," the Wangjiahe farmer said. "That's why no one is signing these agreements with the village committee."
He said that while making ends meet was tough, it was possible to manage if they still had the land to rely on. "Without the land, we will just be reduced to selling our labor, and then life will be very hard to support. There will be no security whatsoever. No social security, help finding a job, nothing...If I lose this piece of land which the government has given me, I will lose my rice bowl," he said.
China's village and township governments are heavily indebted to the tune of an estimated 300 billion yuan (U.S.$36 billion), a level of debt that is more than twice their income. Local governments frequently fall back on the use of land for property developments to make ends meet, causing frequent unrest and adding to social security problems.