The farmers of Hanyuan have taken to the streets, at least 100,000 of them, massive numbers of troops and police have been deployed to suppress them, and farmers have been shot dead. What is going on?
China has witnessed a movement in recent years of “land designation” and “river designation,” unprecedented in scale, not only in China, but throughout the world. What is called “land designation” and “river designation” is in fact the outright grabbing of land by the military and police. Many mountains and valleys in China’s scarcely populated southern and southwestern areas are now coveted by powerful officials. These privileged few are scrambling to advance their vested interests and, with the help of some bribed experts, have submitted a string of proposals for hydro-electric projects, encompassing medium size or small rivers. At present, the movement of “river designation” for the sake of profits has, against all odds, spread to the plateaus in southwestern and western China. As a result, China’s southwestern plateau, known as “the origin of all rivers” has suffered devastating damage to its ecosystem.
A case in point would be the Small Water River in Shimian County, Sichuan Province. Along this 34 kilometers-long river, there are 17 hydro-electric power stations in total, either built or under-construction. In other words, there is, on average, one power station every two kilometers. Is that development? No, that’s going after loans and people’s money in the name of building hydro-electric stations!
Neither the analysis of honest experts nor the complaints and protests by local residents has stopped the corrupt officials from their emboldened and brazen grabbing of the land. Indeed, these officials do not even give reasons anymore, or try to claim they are acting “for the people.” Instead, they just take what they want, by force if necessary.
The large protests in Hanyuan, Sichuan, to stop the blocking of a river by the building of the Dadu River Pubugou Hydro-electric dam show the fury that people can no longer keep down.
The local residents did not demonstrate for the sake of the environment. They demonstrated because they can no longer tolerate the gangster-style “designation of water and land.” The planned power station will be the largest among those now under construction on the Dadu River. If the dam is completed as planned, the whole Hanyuan County and a few neighboring towns will be flooded, destroying more than 44,000 Chinese mu (approximately 7300 acres) of cultivated land and relocating over 90,000 residents.
The local farmers, who have managed to sustain their livelihood on their cultivated land for generations, will face the risk of not being able to support themselves on the hillsides that grow only corn to which they are being forced to relocate. The residents of the county and neighboring towns, when relocated, will have to pay an additional amount for an apartment the same size as the one they had lived in.
Does building a power station lose money? If it doesn’t, where does all the money go and why should the people be asked to bear losses? If it does, why should such a money-losing project be started in the first place?
This is the open secret: there are profiteers who are in a win-win situation. Who are these profiteers? Corrupt officials and greedy businessmen who have not hesitated to use force to achieve their goals. They are labeling the fertile land that has supported the lives of 100,000 people as barren hills and valleys, have tried to resettle the local residents using compensation standards 14 years old, and mobilized the police and military to arrest and evict residents who are reluctant to move. Consequently, people have been left with no choice but to go to the government for solutions.
When persistent appeals to the authorities yielded no results, about 60,000 farmers in Hanyuan staged a sit-in protest at the dam construction site on October 27. The farmers scuffled with the police. The authorities responded by sending in more police, killing and wounding protesting farmers. Over the following two days, nearly 100,000 furious farmers and students, carrying the bodies of the dead, took to the street and stormed the buildings of the local government, letting out their anger by damaging public facilities and forcing the government agencies to close.
The authorities rushed to send in more than 100,000 police and military to reinforce Hanyuan. Right now, large groups of police and military are patrolling the Hanyuan County and curfews have been imposed in many neighborhoods. The government has told the public that it will severely punish those who have obstructed the development of “key state projects” and stormed government offices. The authorities have acted swiftly to cut off transportation and communication to Hanyuan, and the internet has been closely monitored.
The latest word is that the police are known to have killed 17 farmers.
Let us express our sorrow for the deaths of these farmers, both men and women!
After experiencing repeated lies and losses, the public has awakened. What is Jiang Zemin’s party doctrine of the “Three Represents” all about? It’s about gangsters at different levels! Of course, the authorities have the might to back up their relentless suppressions. But a regime cannot afford to stay as an enemy to its people forever. The regime may achieve a lot of its purposes by relying on might. But it will not be able to rely on might forever.
Chinese version of this article first published in Guancha magazine
Zheng Yi (which means "justice") is one of China's foremost novelists and journalists. His works include Old Well (Jaojing), which was also an acclaimed film, and Scarlet Memorial. A leader during the Tiananmen Square protests, he spent over three years as a fugitive from the Chinese government before escaping to Hong Kong. He now lives with his wife in the United States.