10/10/2005, 00.00
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Taishi village, a test for democracy (Overview)

Since August villagers have been protesting against their village chief for alleged graft. Thus far, he has yet not been removed. Their actions are fully legal and in line with the Communist Party's proclamations, but they are still victims of government-sponsored violence and subject to arrests. Their case is becoming an international cause célèbre.

Taishi is a village of some 2,000 souls located near the city of Yuwotou, in Guangdong province (southern China). Last spring local officials convinced the residents to sign a contract to sell 65 of the village's 200 hectares to a national company. They were told that each family would get an annual dividend of about a thousand yuan (about a hundred euros or 120 US dollars). After the villagers signed, some began complaining that they were not getting paid, whilst others—with the help of local economists—were asking questions about who would manage the proceeds from the sale.

Local elections were called to elect a village chief who would be responsible for all the issues related to the sale. Chen Jinsheng, a local Communist Party dignitary, was elected. However, on July 28 local residents signed a petition they sent to the local government alleging fraud in Mr Chen's election and calling on his removal, given his direct involvement in the land sale.

The petition quoted the central government's anti-corruption guidelines, stressing how it had become "a disease that is corroding the glory of the people" and was in the government's own interests to get rid of Chen.

When the petition went unanswered, residents took to the streets to express their dissatisfaction. Roadblocks were set up with some locals deciding to go on a hunger strike. The story was eventually picked up by some internet sites which eventually devoted themselves to covering the entire story.

Local authorities responded on August 16 by sending 500 armed policemen to disperse the assembled villagers, which reacted to the violence with total silence.

Feng Weinan, a 22-year-old village leader, was forced to leave his motorcycle and dragged away to a waiting van; Feng Zhen, 80, fractured three ribs; seven other residents, including a member of the Communist Party, were arrested. By then, the Taishi affaire had gone national.

For Fan Yafeng, a well-known constitutional lawyer in Beijing, events in Taishi show "a model of democratic self-defence that is emerging out of China's economic development. It could spread".

For Li Fan, an expert on democracy at the World and China Institute, residents have "a strategy. They have brought in the media and attorneys acting within the limits of the law and in full respect of the Party's proclamations."

China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited Guangdong as clashes in Taishi were in full swing. He failed to talk about what was happening there but urged local officials to deal with demands and demonstrations with "calm and prudence".

Wen's statement convinced local officials to organise new elections to the seven-member village committee that administers local affairs with the village chief. They were held on September 17, and, according to rights activists Li Jian, all seven seats on the committee went to outsiders, including one from the Communist Party.

Lu Banglie took part in the election as an observer, but on October 9 he was beaten and then vanished.

Sun Yat-sen University professor Ai Xiaoming wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, asking for explanations for what is taking place in Taishi.

"We want to give everyone a chance to explain but no one wants to talk," Ai said. "Why don't they find a solution as the residents of Taishi are trying? Why do they only use violence?"

Taishi's case is not an isolated one. According to official figures, demonstrations in China rose from 10,000 in 1994 to 74,000 in 2004, involving 3.67 million people.

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See also
Beijing "bows to media pressure" and releases Taishi activists
5 years in prison for denouncing government corruption
White House to stop Beijing's "imperialist" policy in the South China Sea
24/01/2017 15:55
Villagers held for protesting against corruption
After getting beaten, an anti-corruption elected official disappears on his way to Taishi


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