Chinese villagers protest against land deal in Yunnan
- 25 October 2013
- From the section China
For days, police have been stationed on the outskirts of the tiny farming village of Guangji, in southern China's Yunnan province. They have been there since Tuesday, following a violent battle between villagers and police.
At the centre of the dispute is a plot of farmland the villagers in Guangji and the surrounding area have used to grow crops for centuries. However, the local government plans to construct a $3.6bn (£2.2bn) tourist attraction on the land - a glitzy recreation of an ancient Chinese city.
For months, three villagers have been circulating around the region, advising Guangji's 2,200 residents of their legal rights to the land. When the police arrived on Tuesday to arrest two of the men - Wang Zhengrong, 69, and his son, Wang Chunyun - the vast majority of the villagers banded together to force the police to leave.
Wang Chunyun told the BBC that "a dozen thugs" found him on Tuesday evening and quickly surrounded him.
When he asked them, "Who are you?", the men told him they were the police.
When Mr Wang asked the men to show him their identification, they attacked him. He says he is now using Chinese herbs to treat his broken ribs, since he fears he will be arrested if he leaves the sanctity of the village.
Mr Wang's father was also attacked and sustained multiple injuries, which caused him to lose consciousness twice. The older Mr Wang is described as a "proud communist" who fought for China in the Vietnam war by his friend and fellow village leader, Pu Yongfang.
Locals report the police used tear gas and another unknown explosive against them, leading four villagers to sustain severe injuries and 40 more to also be hurt. Photos from the locals that were purportedly taken after the incident show villagers with blackened legs and fractured skulls the villagers appear to have tried to stitch up themselves.
Villagers have told the BBC they are using Chinese herbs to treat their wounds and broken bones. They do not dare to leave the village, even to visit a nearby medical clinic, for fear of being arrested.
According to state media reports, 27 police officers were also injured, leaving one officer in critical condition.
An official who answered the phone at the Jinning County government hotline said she would not be able to provide any information on the incident for two days. An official at the Jinning police department refused to answer any questions.
According to the Yunnan Daily, the province's main Communist Party newspaper, the Gu Dian Historic and Cultural Tourism Project will become one of the province's 10 landmark tourism sites. An artist's rendering of the project shows a vast complex of traditional Chinese buildings, decorated with golden rooftops and elaborate red columns. The project is expected to take three years to build and another two years to go into full operation.
Disputes over farm land - who owns it and who has the right to earn money from it - in China often result in clashes between angry villagers, who feel the land belongs to them, and government officials, who are eager to boost investment and tax revenues in their region.
It is unlikely the government will back down easily from this battle. Yunnan's Communist Party secretary, Qin Guangrong, attended an elaborate ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the start of the tourist site's construction last October.
Mr Qin's attendance highlights the level of the party's political stake in the multi-billion dollar plan that is touted as a plan to create jobs in Yunnan.
Villages around the region are attempting to band together to stop officials from seizing any more of the land they will need to complete the project. In May, protests in the neighbouring villages of San He and An Jiang also resulted in violence.
For now, tensions are running high inside Guangji village. Mr Pu, one of the village leaders, says villagers remain on "high alert".
Ten thousand acres of farmland have already disappeared, he explains. And the locals here will do anything they can to prevent more from slipping through their grasp.