The need for a man to defend his castle is instinctual and universal, but all too frequently the measures taken in self-defense end in personal tragedy in China.
Forced-demolition projects have become all too common, with an alarming rise in the number and no end in sight.
Among the countless victims of forced demolition, a few have been driven to the extreme measure of self-immolation, but in the fiery end, were still helpless in protecting their property.
However, one farmer in central China’s Hubei Province has resorted to the use of fire in the most unique proactive stance against forced demolition yet. He has become what many Chinese bloggers and media have deemed the most ferocious defender of personal rights and property.
Yang Youde, now widely known in cyberspace as the “cannoneer,” has used a homemade cannon twice to deter forced-demolition teams, according to a report by Beijing News on June 8.
Yang has leased 25 mu (4 acres) of farmland in the Dongxihu District of Wuhan City. Although his lease is not up until 2029, officials appropriated the property last year, with no suitable compensation agreed upon.
Yang did not give in. Instead, he bought fireworks and steel pipes and created a makeshift, multiple-tube cannon. He has also built an 8-meter high (27-foot) cannon tower on his land.
He told Beijing News that if necessary, he would defend his rights with his life. “I’ve written a will telling my kids that I’ll never commit suicide, but don’t feel sorry for me if I’m killed.”
He has been getting good at firing different cannons with accuracy and precision, including firing those with varied shooting-range distances. He claims his ability comes from having practiced hard.
Thus far, he is the only person who has fired the cannons because he does not want to implicate his relatives. He is determined to be prepared despite being unable to predict what may be coming next: He could be driven from his land; he could end up in prison for causing harm to someone; or his house and land could be leveled by bulldozers.
Knowing that his actions will incur consequences, he has strengthened his resolve. “I can only fight hard,” he said.
His house is surrounded by slogans for defending human rights. Inside it, he retains a book on property rights and a thick, official-looking tome entitled “Complete Book of Law and Policy.” He has memorized many regulations by heart and keeps a journal of every discussion he has with the village authorities.
According to Yang, the village committee offered him 10,000 yuan (US$1,464) compensation per each mu of land. However, based on a document issued by the Hubei provincial government in 2009, the going rate should be 46,800 yuan (US$6,850) per mu of land.
“I could not reach a consensus with the village committee. They eventually quit negotiating with me and resorted to force [to take my land].”
The village committee dispatched a forced-demolition team twice, on Feb. 6 and May 25, to tear down his house.
“The one on May 25 was fierce. Some of them came with shields, steel sticks, and electric batons. Those people closed in on my land with a bulldozer.”
He warned the intruders that they would be hurt if they came closer, but they didn’t heed his warnings. He said he was forced to fire several of his cannons to ward them off. The local police came after receiving his phone call, and the intruders eventually left.
Yang said that after he drove the intruders away, he was glad to see that no one was hurt. He was careful to emphasize that it was not his intention to injure anyone, nor would he ever intentionally aim his cannons at anyone.
He stressed that he is not asking for extra compensation and hopes the government will follow the proper protocol to compensate him.
He has passed on a final directive to his son: “If I die, be sure to get the money I rightfully deserved. This is upholding my dignity as a farmer.”