Another Violent Conflict over Illegal Construction in China

November 11, 2007 12:00 am Last Updated: November 11, 2007 12:00 am

On November 5, 2007, over 1,000 villagers in Dongzhou Village, Shanwei City in the southern coastal area of China clashed again with more than 500 gangsters who were hired to protect an illegal construction project. The angry villagers burnt a van loaded with wooden sticks and large knives that the gang planned to use as weapons against them.

Large-scale conflicts like this have happened many times in Shanwei since the start of the illegal construction of an electric power plant in 2003. Losing their lands and natural resources to the construction and being denied rightful compensation, desperate local residents tried to impede construction as a means to protest the authorities' treatment. The villagers, however, were met with violent suppression by the authorities. In 2005 armed police opened fire to protesting villagers and killed 13 people who were demanding compensation for the land they lost to the construction.

The power plant in question, located right by the site of the 2005 shooting, will start to operate upon the completion of its last transmission tower, Tower A11. In the past few days, Shanwei authorities held several emergency meetings regarding the construction of A11, demanding to take all measures to complete it quickly. The village Committee hired three local criminal gangs to protect the construction.

On the morning of November 5, the authorities tried to start the construction of A11. Over 400 hired gangsters guarded the construction site against the villagers. Seven vehicles of the gang parked in front of the village police station.

“Around the entire town, village officials and gangsters are constantly driving around to monitor the villagers,” explained one villager. “In addition to the 40 motorcycles patroling around, they've also hired two buses to transport the gangsters from Shanwei. Each gangster was paid 200 yuan (US$27).” During the villagers' morning commute, a rallying cry came over the local radio station. “The gangsters are in town again. This afternoon all villagers please gather at the massacre site.”

A villager named Chen disclosed that over 200 hired gangsters were having lunch inside the police station. In the afternoon, over 1,000 villagers went to the construction site and a conflict erupted between the villagers and the gang.

Some gangsters could be found within the mob of villagers, having been assigned to monitor them. A van belonging to the gangsters was parked on the street in front of the construction site. The vehicle was loaded with 15 bundles of three feet long wooden sticks—a total of 150 sticks—and 20 large knives.”

“The angry villagers burned the van,” recalled one villager. “The villagers confiscated the wooden sticks, but they didn't take the knives. They left the knives to be burnt with the van. No policeman came to the scene this time.”

A reporter called the local police office. The officer taking the call answered, “I didn't know. I am only the doorman. I didn't know what happened.”

The construction of the Shanwei Electric Power Plant began in late 2003 without official approval. The plant illegally occupied over 330 acres of farm land and over 825 acres of beach, destroying over 40 square miles of White Sand Lake, which used to abound with fish and shrimp. The construction has severely damaged the natural resources and ecological system, and local people's means of living. However, despite relevant legal regulations, the authorities offer each villager only a single payment of 250 yuan ($34) in compensation for their losses. Moreover, the plant authorities have continuously suppressed farmers who appeal for their rightful compensation for the lost lands.

On August 24, 2007, the Shanwei municipal authorities dispatched nearly 1,000 armed officers to suppress villagers' demonstration. Police used tear gas and water guns to disperse nearly 2,000 villagers. During the conflict eight villagers were injured, with three sustaining seriously injuries. The majority of injured people were elderly. In this conflict indignant villagers burnt down the base of Tower A11.

The power plant is said to have paid over one million yuan ($135,000) to protect the construction of every high voltage electric wire stand. Later the fee was raised to two million yuan ($270,000). When the protect fee was raised again three local criminal gangs received full authority management of the A11 construction.