On December 17, 2007, over 500 farmers in Changchunling Village, Fujin City, Heilongjiang Province of Northeast China gathered to reclaimed ownership of their property lost to the authorities' illegal land seizure.
Changchunling is the second village announcing land reclamation in this area. Two weeks ago villagers of Dongnangang Village first took autonomic actions, claiming ownership of 100 acres of property.
Since then, 40,000 Fujin farmers have announced their determination online to oust village officials in an effort to retrieve a total of roughly 100,000 acres of land the authorities have taken.
Though Chinese authorities quickly responded with violent suppression, Changchunling farmers have proven that the autonomic land reclamation movement is spreading fast.
Fujin farmers' fight for land started 13 years ago when the authorities expropriated ten percent of the city's farmlands to build a farm funded by Korean investors, paying only a trivial amount of compensation to the farmers. Though the Korean farm project was later cancelled, the farmers never had their lands back.
After 13 years' inconclusive seek for justice, the farmers decided to take active measures. The movement was kindled in June 2007 when farmer representatives approached foreign media and showed them the signatures of support they had collected, and offered the slogan, “We Want Human Rights, Not Olympic Games.”
With the growing mobilization, the Fujin municipal government increased their pressure against the farmers, resulting in the arrest of Yu Changwu, leader and key defender of Dongnangang farmers' rights.
According to Yu's daughter, Yu has not returned home since his arrest about a week ago. Having married into another village, she does not know more details.
The Fujin City Police Bureau and detention center were called to comment on Yu's arrest, but no one answered the phone.
Farmers said police drove through the villages and kept a close watch on residents, attempting to threaten and bribe villagers off the land reclamation. After these tactics failed, the authorities are now trying to steal the residents' land use certificates that determine legal ownership, said the villagers.
Villagers revealed that on December 15, Fujin City police approached the Changchunling Village clerk and ordered him to produce the land use documents on file.
The authorities' efforts only made farmers fully realize the importance of the certificates for regaining their lands, so they refused to submit these documents that signify legal ownership of the property.
Despite the escalating persecution from authorities, Changchunling villagers began to reclaim land on December 16. On the villager meeting the next day, the village chief was persuaded to support the initiative to take back the land as a collective asset, and agreed to represent the villagers in making specific arrangements. Villagers said that the reclaimed property will be equally divided amongst the 2,200 villagers.
Though all villagers support the plan to equally divide the land, many fear the gang which the authorities have employed for over ten years to suppress villagers. Though many were too afraid to attend the meeting, over 500 villagers bravely did so and publicly demanded that the land be returned to their rightful owners.
Villagers who did not attend the assembly said that they are too scared of the authorities to say anything.
Attendants of the meeting were harassed later. In a telephone interview, Zhang, a villager who attended the meeting said that after the assembly a group of people came to his door. Among the group were policemen, local officials, and Communist Party Committee secretaries .
“They came to ask how we were dividing the land, and according to what documents,” said Zhang. “I replied that we were dividing the land according to the land certificates.”
When asked to hand the phone over to the government officials who were questioning him, Zhang said, “They asked who you were, and said this has nothing to do with you, so will not take the call.”
“The villagers have done nothing wrong,” exclaimed Zhang “The authorities cannot arrest people without reason. There's nothing to fear.”
Changchunling Village has a vast amount of land. Over ten years ago during a joint venture, in which China was to begin an agricultural project with Korea, the land was taken through what the villagers describe as governmental deception. The project has yet to begin, but the “Fujin City Agriculture Development Company” has been occupying the land the entire time.
The company general manager and assistant general manager both own great amount of land. Fujin city council officials and city hall have also taken land from the farmers. Former Fujin city council member and assistant secretary Ge Qixia, and assistant secretary in charge of agriculture, Guo Fushan, together hold over 1600 acres of stolen land.