3 minute read
Hannah Beech

Lin Yudui was considered the lucky brother. Like more than 100 million Chinese peasants, he left his rural roots behind for a job in the big city. His younger sibling stayed in the family’s hometown, the hamlet of Dongzhou in southern China’s Guangdong province. In early December, when Lin returned for a visit, the brothers joined a protest against a nearby power-station project. Locals claim the plant is being built on village rice paddies sold by municipal officials to the power company without proper compensation to the villagers. Moreover, the project involved filling in most of a lake that had supported generations of Dongzhou fishermen. The protest ended violently, with at least three people killed by security forces. Lin was one of them. “We thought he escaped to a better life in the city,” says his brother, who refuses to give his name for fear of official retribution. “But he died a farmer.”

Although his fate was worse than most, Lin was one of millions of Chinese peasants losing faith in the ability of local governments to improve their lives. Over the past two decades, vast swathes of Chinese farmland have been converted into the factories, highways and power plants that are fueling the country’s economic growth. But many farmers complain that they have not been adequately compensated for losing land, sometimes because corrupt local officials have pocketed the money. In Guangdong alone, two million farmers have been displaced by development, according to provincial statistics. These land seizures were one of the top causes for the 84,000 “disturbances to public order” that Beijing says broke out nationwide in 2005. “We farmers depend on our mountain and our lake to make a living,” says Lin’s brother. “Now that they’ve taken them away, how can we continue our lives?”

Local officials aren’t providing much guidance. Only one police official has been detained in connection with the Dongzhou killings. A month after the shootings, police continue to arrest villagers and block outsiders from entering Dongzhou to investigate whether the official body count of three is too low, as villagers claim. Power-plant construction, residents have been informed, will proceed. Nevertheless, some locals hold out hope that Beijing, which earlier this month targeted rural graft as one of its biggest priorities for 2006, will clean up the mess. “If only the central government knew the truth, they would help us,” says Lin’s brother. “Because if they don’t help, then there’s nowhere we can go to seek justice.”

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