Tens of thousands of farmers stage largest-ever rural protests against government-proposed dam in Sichuan
About 40,000 farmers staged protests last week against a dam project in the southwestern province of Sichuan. 100,000 villagers’ homes would be flooded if the plan went ahead, according to media reports.
Two villagers were killed in the protests, and at least one police officer is reported dead. Sichuan Province’s party secretary Zhang Xuezhong was briefly confronted and held up by around 10,000 villagers in Dashu Township demanding a halt in construction of the dam.
The violence broke out in Hanyuan County on 5 November when up to 30,000 people tried to block thousands of armed police deployed to the area to quell days of protests against the construction of the Pubugou dam. The government has deployed as many as 10,000 soldiers to areas near the dam.
The hydroelectric dam project will force 100,000 farmers to move from their homes in a fertile river basin to a mountainous area of poorer farmland. The extremely low compensation payments offered by the authorities in charge of the project have left the farmers desperate. They maintained their protest action for a full week and only dispersed after the arrival of thousands of armed police.
Although the online forums of some mainland Chinese websites have carried reports about the Hanyuan villagers’ protest, mainland newspapers have provided no coverage of the events and local officials in Sichuan have refused to comment.
According to online forum reports, the villagers started the protests against low land compensation in late October. Protesters clashed with police outside the county government building at that time, temporarily suspending local government operations.
Villagers: local officials made false reports about land quality
The Hanyuan villagers have accused the local authorities of falsely reporting to the central government on the quality of their land in order to justify lower compensation payments. The authorities described the land as being barren and rocky, whereas the villagers say it is fertile farmland. They have also accused local officials of corruption in handling the dam project and have asked the central government to intervene to help them get better compensation for the imminent loss of their homes. Several hydroelectric projects are underway in China’s mountainous southwestern regions as the country faces a soaring demand for electricity.
A member of the Political Consultative Committee of Hanyuan County told China Labour Bulletin that the dam project plan had been put forward in 2001, but farmers were not officially informed of the project and eviction plan until 27 July this year. He also said that a taskforce from the central government had arrived in the city and was meeting with local technology officials to discuss the problem. The construction of the dam had been suspended due to the protests, the official added.
Growing social unrest in China
Large-scale public protests are a growing problem for the Chinese government, which has always stressed its ability to maintain social stability. Several such incidents have occurred during the last month alone. At least seven people were killed and 42 injured in Henan Province, central China, in rioting sparked by a 29 October traffic dispute among members of the Han Chinese majority and the Muslim Hui minority, leading to extensive fighting and burning of homes in the area. Two villages in the province were placed under martial law after the ethnic clashes.
Also, in late October about 10,000 retired textile workers demanding more pension payments blocked traffic for several days in the eastern city of Bengbu, Anhui Province. Nearly a thousand workers demonstrated outside a newly privatized department store in Jining City in northeastern Shandong Province against arbitrary wage reductions and excessive overtime work. And on 18 October, police used rubber bullets and tear gas to quell a giant mob of nearly 50,000 rioters, who were protesting the reported near-fatal beating by an official of a migrant worker, in the Wanzhou district of Chongqing Municipality in southwestern China.
The central government rarely releases information on the overall numbers of such protests around the country. However, according to Outlook magazine (an official organ of the Communist Party), more than three million people took part in about 58,000 protests – an average of 160 a day – across China in 2003, a 15 percent jump from the previous year. In addition, The courts in China received nearly four million petition cases from members of the public in 2003, while the National People’s Congress was petitioned by around 20,000 people, one-third more than the previous year.
Sources: Agence France-Presse, China Labour Bulletin, Xinhua News Agency, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and Reuters.