HONG KONG—Hundreds of riot police in southern China used clubs and tear gas to disperse villagers surrounding a brand-new granary during its ribbon-cutting ceremony, ending an 18-hour standoff and injuring several people, witnesses say.
“They fired hundreds of rounds of tear gas and put up a two-km blockade,” one witness told RFA’s Mandarin service. “The police walked over the villagers who were sitting on the ground, including the elderly.”
“They also used police dogs—more than a dozen German shepherds...The elderly villagers were just sitting on the ground. But the police did not treat them as humans. They just stampeded over them.”
“One villager sustained a head injury from beating. Another was clubbed by police in the chest. I am burned around the armpit by shells from tear-gas canisters. Three of my fingers are also burned. Around 11:00 a.m., the riot police took the guest merchants away.”
Up to 1,000 police were described as moving in at around 10:00 a.m. local time Thursday, Nov. 9, around the granary, which was built on what had been farmland in Sanzhou village, Guangdong province.
One villager sustained a head injury from beating. Another was clubbed by police in the chest. I am burned around the armpit by shells from tear-gas canisters. Three of my fingers are also burned.
Witnesses said they came to disperse a crowd of as many as 3,000 villagers. Several villagers were held briefly by police but released within the hour, they said. By late Thursday, when the hostages had been freed, no one was in custody.
At around 4:00 a.m., several government officials had visited the villagers who were keeping vigil at the granary to try to negotiate a settlement, witnesses said. The officials included a secretary of the Guangdong provincial judicial committee, the deputy mayor of Foshan, Zhou Tianming; the deputy district chief of the Shunde district, Pan Zhiwen; and the chief of the Shunde district public security bureau, whose name wasn’t immediately known.
During the negotiation, the villagers demanded that the provincial government send an investigative unit within days to Sanzhou village. Officials on site agreed to this demand, but riot police moved in several hours later.
The villagers, who say they were forced to sell farmland at below-market rates, had surrounded the building at around 4:00 p.m. Wednesday.
At that time, village sources said, officials from various levels of government and more than 100 overseas Chinese from Thailand, Germany, England, and Hong Kong attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the just-completed granary.
“A little over 100” guests were inside the building, a woman surnamed Chen said. “Altogether around 300 people. Some [officials] are from the central government, some are provincial officials.”Asked what the villagers were demanding, she replied, “We want money, money for our land.”
Officials in the area declined to comment on the incident on Thursday. “No government agency will address your query,” a Public Security official said by telephone.
Our country is now rich enough to help Africa. But villagers in Shunde are in worse shape than the people of Africa.
A Shunde district government official said: “We have not received the relevant instructions on this.”
Since 1992, agricultural land in Sanzhou village has been expropriated or sold to private investors. Each villager so far has received around 6,000 yuan for compensation, they said.
In late 2005, more than 10,000 villagers asked the village party committee to make public the information on land sales. It was discovered then that more than half of the village’s 9,000 mu (1,482 acres) of land has been sold.
A male villager surnamed Liang told RFA-Mandarin reporter Ding Xiao: “According to land sales contracts, land was sold for more than 130,000 yuan per mu. But the villagers only got 35,000 per mu.” Villagers suspect local officials of corruption and have petitioned higher-level officials without success.
On Dec. 6 last year, at least three villagers in another Guangdong area, Shanwei, were killed when police fired on a crowd of protesters. China’s official Xinhua news agency said the three died during the violence, after being shot by police “in alarm.”
Villagers suspect local officials of corruption and have petitioned higher-level officials without success.
On Thursday, the tone among the protesters was bitter.
“Our country is now rich enough to help Africa. But villagers in Shunde are in worse shape than the people of Africa,” one villager said. “They care only about how fast the economy is growing. They don’t care if the peasants are without land and livelihood.”
“The Communist Party should serve the people,” said another. “It should not help corrupt officials to abuse the peasants.”
Original reporting by Ding Xiao for RFA's Mandarin service. Service director: Jennifer Chou. Edited and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.