[Reader-list] The other china

Ravi Sundaram ravis at sarai.net
Sat Dec 10 15:04:55 IST 2005

The India elite never tires speaking about the emulating Shanghai in 
particular and China in general. There is a lot to be learnt from 
China's global emergence and the concurrent crisis of the US empire, 
but what is also amazing is also a high rate of social unrest in 
China. According to Chinese police figures there were 74,000 
significant social disturbances in China last year. That's seventy 
four thousand!  See the story below about a recent such 
'disturbance'. China is now the workshop of the world, dynamic and 
turbulent, with rates of inequality comparable to that of Brazil.


Protesters Say Police in China Killed Up to 20

By HOWARD W. FRENCH, New York Times

SHANGHAI, Dec. 9 - Residents of a fishing village near Hong Kong said 
Friday that as many as 20 people were killed by the paramilitary 
police this week, in an unusually violent clash that marked an 
escalation in the widespread social protests roiling the Chinese 
countryside. Villagers said as many as 50 other residents remained 
unaccounted for since the shootings on Tuesday.

It was the largest known use of force by security personnel against 
citizens since the killings around Tiananmen Square in 1989. That 
death toll is still unknown, but is estimated to have been in the hundreds.

The violence near Hong Kong began after dark on Tuesday evening in 
the town of Dongzhou, when the police opened fire on crowds to put 
down a demonstration over plans for a power plant. Terrified 
residents said their hamlet has been occupied since then by thousands 
of security officers, who have blocked off all access roads and were 
arresting residents who have tried to leave the area in the wake of 
the heavily armed assault.

"From about 7 p.m. the police started firing tear gas into the crowd, 
but this failed to scare people," said a resident who gave his name 
only as Li and claimed to have been at the scene, where, he said, a 
relative had been killed.

"Later, we heard more than 10 explosions, and thought they were just 
detonators, so nobody was scared," Li said. "At about 8 p.m. they 
started using guns, shooting bullets into the ground, but not really 
targeting anybody. Finally, at about 10 p.m. they started killing people."

The use of live ammunition to put down a protest is almost unheard of 
in China, where the authorities have come to rely on the rapid 
deployment of huge security forces, tear gas, water cannons and other 
nonlethal measures. But the Chinese authorities have become 
increasingly nervous in recent months over the proliferation of 
demonstrations across the countryside, particularly in heavily 
industrialized eastern provinces like Zhejiang, Jiangsu and 
Guangdong, where Dongzhou is situated.

By the government's own tally, there were 74,000 riots or other 
significant public disturbances in 2004 alone, a big jump from previous years.

The Chinese government has not issued a statement about the events in 
Dongzhou, nor has it been reported in the state news media. Reached 
by telephone, an official in the city of Shanwei, which has 
jurisdiction over the village, said, "Yes, there was an incident, but 
we don't know the details." The official, who declined to give his 
name, said a government announcement would be made Saturday.

In telephone interviews with more than a dozen villagers in Dongzhou, 
all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, 
a detailed account of the conflict emerged. Residents said their 
dispute with the authorities had begun with a power company's plans 
to build a coal-fired generator nearby, which they feared would cause 
heavy pollution. Farmers said they had not been compensated for the 
use of their land for the plant.

Others said plans to fill in a local bay as part of the power plant 
project were unacceptable because people have made their livelihoods 
there as fishermen for generations. Already, villagers complained, 
work crews have been blasting a nearby mountainside for rubble to use 
in the landfill.

A small group of villagers was chosen to complain to the authorities 
about the plant in August, but the members were arrested, infuriating 
residents and leading others to join the protests. The police made 
more arrests on Tuesday while villagers were staging a sit-in. In 
response, many people came out into the streets, where they 
obstructed several officers.

Hundreds of law enforcement officers were rushed in. "Everybody, 
young and old, went out to watch," said one man who said his cousin 
had been fatally shot in the forehead by the police during the 
protest. "We didn't expect they were so evil. The farmers had no 
means to resist them."

The earliest accounts coming from the village said the police had 
opened fire only after villagers began throwing homemade bombs and 
other missiles. But villagers reached by telephone on Friday denied 
those accounts, saying that a few farmers had launched ordinary 
fireworks at the police as part of their protest.

"Those were not bombs, they were fireworks, the kind that fly up into 
the sky," one witness said. "The organizers didn't have any money, so 
someone bought fireworks and placed them there. At the moment the 
trouble started, many of the demonstrators were holding them, and of 
those who held fireworks, almost everyone was killed."

Other witnesses estimated that 10 people were killed in the first 
volley of automatic gunfire. "I live not far from the scene, and I 
was running as fast as I could," a witness said. "I dragged one of 
the people they killed, a man in his 30's who was shot in his chest. 
Initially I thought he might survive, because he was still breathing, 
but he was panting heavily, and as soon as I pulled him aside, he died."

That witness said that he, too, had come under fire when police 
officers saw him going to the aid of the dying man. Villagers said 
that in addition to the regular security forces, the authorities had 
enlisted thugs from local organized crime groups to help put down the 
demonstration. "They had knives and sticks in their hands, and they 
were two or three layers thick, lining the road," one man said. "They 
stood in front of the armed police, and when the tear gas was 
launched, the thugs were all ducking."

Like the Dongzhou episode itself, most of the thousands of riots and 
public disturbances recorded in China this year have involved 
environmental, property rights and land-use issues. Among other 
problems the Chinese government has in trying to come to grips with 
the growing rural unrest, it is wrestling with a yawning gap in 
incomes between farmers and urban dwellers, as well as rampant 
corruption in local government, where officials make deals with 
developers involving communal property rights, often for their own profit.

Finally, cellphones have made it easier for people in rural China to 
organize, communicating news to one another by text messages, and 
increasingly allowing them to stay in touch with members of 
nongovernmental organizations in big cities who have been eager to 
advise them or to provide legal help.

Over the last three days, residents of the village said, few people 
dared to go outside, other than to look for missing relatives. The 
police and other security forces, meanwhile, combed the village house 
by house, residents said, looking for leaders of the demonstration 
and making arrests.

Residents said that after the demonstration was suppressed, a senior 
Communist Party official went to the hamlet from nearby Shanwei and 
addressed residents with a megaphone. "Shanwei and Dongzhou are still 
good friends," a villager recalled that the party official said. 
"We're not here against you. We are here to make the construction of 
the Red Sea Bay better." Later, the official told visitors, "all of 
the families who have people who died must send a representative to 
the police for a solution."

On Friday, about 100 bereaved villagers gathered at a bridge leading 
into the town, briefly blocking access to security forces. The 
villagers hoisted a white banner whose black-ink characters read: 
"The dead suffered a wrong. Uphold justice."

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