The captions are in Chinese and the video itself is dated 28 May 2008. One caption reads: In Yingbei Village, Kuiwen District, Weifang City in Shandong Province, the village head Gao Zhigang led thugs to beat up villagers. Where are the higher-ups stopping such violent evictions? Can’t we small people have a place to live?
In an ironic twist the final caption refers to Chinese President Hu Jintao’s proclaimed policy of a harmonious society. “We hope,” it says that “everyone can pay attention to this matter— pay attention to violence and power in this harmonious society.”
Seizures of land and homes are one of China’s hottest social problems. In Beijing alone about 1.5 million people have been evicted from their homes without compensation or even a token payment for losses incurred in favour of Olympic construction and other urban monuments.
But the problem is even worse in rural areas, where entire villages (like the one shown in the video) have had their land expropriated for the construction of new factories, power stations and luxury homes.
This has led to violent clashes between police and residents with arrests and killings in Guangdong, Shaanxi, Sichuan and Hebei.
Chen Xiwen, vice-minister of the Central Office on Financial and Economic Affairs, said that “disputes about possession of land are the cause of more than 50 per cent of all social protests.”
Land confiscation increased by 17.3 per cent in 2006, reaching 131,000 cases, according to the Ministry of Land and Resources. These involved about 100,000 hectares of land, 76 per cent more than in 2005. At least 43,000 of the hectares confiscated were farmland.
In December 2007, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), an NGO that fights forced evictions worldwide, named China, Burma and Slovakia the winners in their annual Prize as the countries that have committed the most serious and systematic violations.
Beijing and the Olympics organising committee were singled out as having “abysmal disregard” for evicting 1.25 million people to make way for the Olympic Games. COHRE claims that even now 13 thousand people are “evicted” every month.
Violent seizures and the number of incidents of unrest they generate (about 60,000 per year) are however a state secret.
What is not a secret is that last January a farmer in Heilongjiang who had tried to regain title to land that had been seized from him ended up with a two-year sentence of forced labour for talking to foreign journalists. In motivating his sentence the presiding judge said that “he had jeopardised state security.”