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CHINA: Video Gives Rare Glimpse of Bitter War Between Developers and China's Poor

by David McNeillThe Independent
June 17th, 2005

The world got a rare glimpse of the deadly, mostly unseen war between Chinese developers and the poor who stand in their way with the release of a harrowing video showing a murderous attack on villagers protesting against the construction of a power plant.

Chinese state media says 10 people were killed, some of them elderly, when hundreds of camouflaged men in hard-hats and armed with knives, guns and iron bars carried out a terrifying dawn raid last Saturday on about 300 people in a shantytown in Shengyou, in China's north.

One man told The Beijing News the attackers "rushed into the shacks and started pounding and chopping". Niu Chengluan, who suffered broken bones, told The South China Morning Post from his hospital bed: "Four people used iron bars with knives to beat me. They [tried to] beat me to death." The attackers concentrated on the men, but several women were hurt, including Huang Jinfeng, who said the men "attacked everyone they found".

The villagers, who had fought off an assault in April and captured one of the attackers, Zhu Xiaorui, reportedly retaliated with farm tools, but by the time police were called an hour later, six were dead and nearly 50 injured; four more have since died. The survivors are refusing to surrender their captured attacker, Mr Zhu, a Beijing club bouncer who was paid 100 Yuan (6.60) for his day's work.

The villagers refused a compensation offer last July from Hebei Guohua Power, which wants to build a power plant on the 62 acre (25-hectare) site. Chinese internet bulletin-boards say the company had successfully negotiated with 12 other villages and was so frustrated by lack of progress with the final holdout that it filled five buses with hired thugs to clear the shantytown.

Local media were barred from covering the attack, but the story was picked up by media outlets in China's far south and a video recorded by a villager was handed to The Washington Post, forcing the government to act. The local party chief and the mayor have been sacked, and police are negotiating for Mr Zhu's release.

The video's release around the world brings more unwelcome attention for Beijing on the enormous social tensions created by China's explosive economic growth, which has brought riches for some but hardship and rising anger for millions of others. The right to organise is strictly curtailed, but unofficial strikes and demonstrations have grown rapidly in the past decade, along with attacks on government building and officials.

One government report said 3.1 million people took part in protests in just one month last year. Economic growth has also led to intense competition between land-hungry developers, who often clash brutally with the 140 million migrant workers in their march to progress. In October, 50,000 migrants rioted in Wangzhou city, in Sichuan province, after being forcibly cleared from their land to make way for the planet's largest construction project, the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River.

"The scale of the violence in this latest attack is unusual but the fundamental issue over land, especially in the suburbs, and the dynamics of land theft is not," said Professor Mark Selden, who has written numerous books about China. "It is one of the big unreported stories of our time."

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