On December 9, 2007, over 40,000 farmers in North-Eastern China declared ownership of over 247,050 acres of farmland that they've reclaimed from local authorities.
In Fujin City, Heilongjiang Province farmers announced on the Internet that they will regain land that authorities had forcefully taken from them since the 1990's.
The announcement explained that the lands would be returned to the 72 villages which originally owned them. Each village will evenly distribute the lands among the residents.
For decades the Chinese communist regime has been rigid with their rules on land ownership. They've asserted that all land belongs to the state, and private ownership is utterly out of the question.
As land prices have skyrocketed in recent years, more and more people throughout the country have been forcefully evicted from their homes or have had their land seized as the regime has seen fit. In the past decade illegal land seizures from farmers by authorities have caused numerous individual struggles, triggering massive protests across the country. The farmers' land reclamation is the first time so many came together to challenge the state monopoly on land ownership and sales.
“We didn't mean to challenge the authorities. We have appealed many times, but it was no use.” Yu Changwu, spokesperson for the Fujin area farmers “We are demanding nothing more than our basic rights. We have been driven over the edge.”
Fujin used to be China's fourth largest grain-producing city and a major provider of soybeans. In early 90's, Fujin authorities expropriated ten percent of the total area of farmland to build a Korean-funded agriculture project. Local farmers received a trivial compensation for the deal. Though the Korean-backed farm was later cancelled, the Fujin farmers never got their land rights back. What's worse, Fujin authorities collaborated with local gangs to continue to seize almost 40 percent of the city's 658,800 acres of total land area.
According to Yu, as the lands were transferred to municipal officials, Fujin farmers were forced to rent the land which had once been theirs at a very high cost. “Since their land was taken, the farmers have never received the annual allowances that the state issues to farmers, because the municipal authorities took the money,” explained Yu, who said the total allowance for 2007 adds up to 26.4 million yuan (US$3.58 million).
Villagers have been fighting for their lost lands for years. Earlier this year, Yu and other farmers' rights activists approached foreign media and showed them the signatures of support they had collected, and offered the slogan, “We Want Human Rights, Not Olympic Games.” Chinese authorities quickly responded with violent suppression, threats, bribery and deluding the people with rumors. Yu and two other representatives were illegally detained, one of which is still detained.
But this crackdown did not scare the farmers off. Instead, Yu said they came to realize that the communist regime's promises to improve itself would never materialize. Now the farmers are determined to rely on their own strength and fight for their own rights.
Yu revealed that one village has held a conference and selected their own representatives to regain and distribute the lands—the process is already half complete. Yu said that other villages will follow this example to regain their lands.
“We demand the right to land use and the right to land profits” said the farmers in the online announcement, “We maintain the right to inherit and trade our lands. We should decide whether and for what price the land can be sold.”