March 3, 2002
A day after the government released statistics showing an average of more than 230 demonstrations every day last year, state media published a grim warning from the prime minister, who is struggling to curb local governments’ land-grabbing instincts.
The Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, has warned that the rampant seizure of farmland for development is threatening social stability amid a rising wave of violent protests in the countryside.
A day after the government released statistics showing an average of more than 230 demonstrations every day last year, the state media published a grim warning from the prime minister, who is struggling to curb the land-grabbing instincts of China’s local governments.
“Some locales are unlawfully occupying farmers’ land and not offering reasonable economic compensation and arrangements for livelihoods, and this is sparking mass incidents in the countryside,” said Mr Wen. “We absolutely can’t commit a historic error over land problems.” With urbanisation growing at an unprecedented rate, 6.7m hectares of agricultural land were converted into roads, factories and residential areas last year. This has created problems of food self-sufficiency and left millions of farmers homeless.
Each transfer of property brings huge gains to developers. According to Ye Jianping of Renmin University, a six-square-metre plot of farmland in Guangdong province is worth no more than 150,000 yuan (£10,000). But if it is reclassified as development land, it can be worth up to 3m yuan. “The rate of urbanisation is too fast,” said Professor Ye. “A lot of rural land is becoming urban but the transfer of population has not kept up so there are more than 30 million farmers without land or jobs.”
Because the land is owned by the state or village collective, farmers have only fixed-term usage rights and minimal legal protection. When land is seized it is often done without adequate compensation. As there is no independent court system, it is usually impossible to seek legal redress so farmers have little choice but to protest.
Disputes over land have emerged alongside – often related – issues of pollution and corruption as the major causes of unrest. On Thursday, the ministry of public security said there were 87,000 protests, riots and other “mass incidents” last year, up 6.6% on 2004.
But land is not the only contentious issue in a country where citizens appear increasingly emboldened to challenge the authorities. In the southern boom city of Shenzhen, thousands of armed police were deployed earlier this week to quash a protest by more than 3,000 prostitutes and karaoke hostesses who were left without jobs after a crackdown on massage parlours and discos.
A nightclub owner said: “It has paralysed the local economy.” He said about 8,000 people participated in a protest at the Shenzhen municipal government building, before police broke it up and arrested some of those involved.