This story was on the NYT front page this morning. This electronic
version appears considerably shorter than the print one, which ran to
a lengthy inside-section jump. But TTMI.
------- Forwarded Message Follows -------
Aggrieved Farmers Pose Threat to Communist Party in China
By ERIK ECKHOLM
DAOLIN, China -- "He was just an honest farmer," said the widow of
Zhang Huangli, speaking bitterly in her dirt-floor farmhouse about
the death of her husband on Jan. 8.
On that day, here among the rice paddies and scraggly pine groves of
Hunan Province, thousands of farmers -- more than 10,000,
participants claim -- streamed from the surrounding hills to the
government office in Daolin, a town of a few thousand. They came to
demand an end to what they consider excessive taxes and corruption by
the local Communist Party officials who rule over them.
But the rally, possibly one of the largest farmer protests in China
in recent years, was quickly crushed. Zhang was killed by an
exploding tear-gas canister fired by riot police. Scores more people
were wounded by the gas or by clubs, witnesses said.
Eighteen people were detained for one or two days, a participant
said in an interview here, and four leaders of the protest escaped
arrest and have been sought ever since, with reward posters plastered
on village walls by police and torn down by angry farmers.
The rally, called by a two-year-old illegal organization of local
farmers, was one of many similar protests that have erupted in rural
areas around the country. Like most others, it was completely
unreported in the Chinese media, and rural protesters have rarely had
a chance to describe their grievances directly to outsiders.
Along with the ire of unpaid urban workers, boiling resentment in
the countryside is a major source of the social instability that has
recently preoccupied China's leaders. The rampant discontent seems
less to reflect any new crisis than it does the slow grinding down of
farmers who have long been known for their ability to "eat
But multiplied across rural China, where two-thirds of the country's
people still live, the alienation of farmers -- whom Mao Tse-tung
once called "the main force in the revolution" -- poses a long-term
challenge to Communist Party rule.
The simmering conflict in Hunan is a particular embarrassment for
the party because Hunan is the birthplace of Mao and other top
leaders, including the current prime minister, Zhu Rongzhi.
Adding further to the sense of disorder, in the last month Hunan was
also the site of two unsolved bombings -- one on a bus in the
provincial capital of Changsha that wounded 37 and the other in the
southern town of Yizhang that killed eight. But no evidence has
surfaced to link those events to farmer or worker protests.
Daolin township, an administrative area of some 50,000 people
scattered in many villages, is neither poor nor rich by the standards
of rural China, where families squeeze out two rice crops a year on
small plots of land.
Candid conversations with numerous farmers across the angry township
suggest that resentment of local party and government officials is
pervasive, linked to the multitude of taxes they levy and a sense
that the officials fritter the money away with extravagant "wining
and dining." So general is the antipathy that local police have not
dared to enter the villages to arrest wanted protest organizers, and
large rewards posted for their capture have yielded no takers.
The national leaders have acknowledged the threat to the party.
President Jiang Zemin, Zhu and others constantly rail against
arbitrary taxes and against corruption both petty and grand. The
party has also promoted elections of village leaders, intended to
vent discontent and root out venal or incompetent cadres.
But an afternoon with farmers in Hunan suggests that here at least,
hostility toward local party and government officials remains high,
though farmers seem to retain some faith in top national leaders. The
farmers, most of whom took part in the Jan. 8 demonstration, spoke on
condition of anonymity.
Several said essentially the same thing: "The officials just help
one another, and the corrupt ones just get moved on to new jobs."
In several telephone calls to Daolin township offices, officials
refused to comment on the Jan. 8 confrontation or the farmers'
About two years ago, concerned farmers from several villages of
Daolin formed an organization, said a man who was involved, who for
fear of arrest would not allow his name to be used. Similar groups
have been formed in at least four of the 12 other townships in the
surrounding county of Ningxiang, he said.
The Daolin group was spearheaded by a man named Yang Yaojin, farmers
said, who is now wanted by local police.
The group adopted an intentionally innocuous name: Volunteers for
Publicity of Policies and Regulations. The name was a sly one,
reflecting the farmers' basic complaint and their strategy, which is
to praise national officials and paint local ones as violators. The
central government, the involved man noted, has a policy that taxes
on farmers should not exceed 5 percent of their previous year's
"We had found that the policies of local cadres ran counter to those
of the provincial and central governments," said the man. The farmers
charge that township and county officials have inflated the incomes
of local villagers in their records, so they can levy higher taxes
without seeming to violate the rules.
The real per capita income in Daolin in 1998 was 1,400 yuan, or
about $170, the man said, but officials claimed that it was 2,400
yuan, about $290.
With the outrage of angry taxpayers anywhere, farmers said they had
counted 15 different fees levied by the township alone. They include
a $1.50 fee for every pig slaughtered -- and, farmers said
indignantly, every family is charged the slaughter tax once a year
even if it has no pigs. A fee is collected for production of "special
products" like nuts, even when none are grown, they said.
There are fees for animal inoculations, for school, for permits to
get married or to have a baby. Then, the farmers said, there are
special levies for projects like power plants and schools.
As a result, instead of paying the legal total taxes of $8 a person
per year, local farmers ended up paying $15 a person, plus special
levies. This may not seem like much to outsiders, but the farmers
described the extra amount as a real burden on their meager incomes.
Some economists in China and abroad have suggested that the official
limit on rural taxes of 5 percent of income is too low, making it
impossible for local governments to carry out needed development
projects and putting local officials in an impossible bind.
Those who took part in the protest here said they could stomach the
extra fees if they yielded benefits, but instead they just felt
"Special fund raising should be used for special projects, but the
money has been wasted by the wining and dining of township
officials,"one farmer said. "They raised the money for this, for
that, but they didn't start any projects."
Last June, the man involved in the farmer organization said, they
held a large, peaceful demonstration in Daolin that prompted
officials to reduce school fees.
Before the next rally, the one that ended in violence a few weeks
ago, the organization put up posters all over the township. One,
reflecting the strategy of appealing to the higher authorities, said,
"Resolutely Unite Around the Center of the Communist Party headed by
President Jiang Zemin and Prime Minister Zhu Rongji." Another called
on residents to rally at the township headquarters on Jan. 8.
That morning, thousands of farmers gathered in Daolin town to find
themselves facing hundreds of armed policemen and a special riot
squad from the provincial capital of Changsha, some 30 miles away,
with masks and shields, batons and tear gas. Before the farm leaders
had given their speeches, as the crowd surged and jostled near the
headquarters entrance, police told people to leave and then lobbed
several tear gas canisters, witnesses said.
One exploded against the leg of Zhang Huangli, said his widow, Wen
Xiuqing, who recalled the event in her house of mud bricks as dozens
of agitated relatives crowded around. She insisted that her husband
had been an innocent bystander.
Badly wounded, Zhang lay without help for half an hour in a
spreading pool of blood, Ms. Wen said. She saw him only as the crowd
cleared, and then, she recalled, "I knelt by him, crying for help."
When a nephew tried to move him, he was clubbed and detained for the
day, she charged.
Zhang was finally taken to a local hospital, then transferred twice
to larger ones. But later that day, in shock from losing so much
blood, he died, the only fatality in the confrontation. Ms. Wen was
given $7,260 in compensation by the authorities, she said, but she
had to spend two-thirds of that on the kind of elaborate funeral that
is expected in their clan.
The villagers cling to the hope that the higher authorities will
side with them if only they learn the truth. Yang and two other
leaders slipped away to Beijing, the man said, and are believed to be
there now, trying to petition the State Council and other offices,
and to attract the interest of a nationally known investigative
television program. The fourth wanted leader remains sheltered by
fellow farmers in the township.
In the villages of Daolin, farmers said they hoped that the central
or provincial governments would send a task force to examine the
policies and behavior of successive Communist Party secretaries and
Daolin farmers have taken part in the new-style elections for
village leaders that China touts as bringing democracy to the
countryside, but to little effect, the farmers said, because the
elections are controlled by the Communist Party and because the real
power over their lives comes from the next levels up, at the township
and the county.
Even for the village posts, farmers said, the candidates are
selected by the Communist Party, and then the votes are counted
secretly "in a very small room," as one put it. It was inconceivable,
they said, that an activist with the farmer organization could run.
"It would be much better if we could directly elect the township and
county leaders, in a really democratic manner," a farmer said. "But
this seems impossible."
Michele Gale-Sinex, communications manager
Center for Integrated Ag Systems
UW-Madison College of Ag and Life Sciences
Voice: (608) 262-8018 FAX: (608) 265-3020
Community--that's what Jah say. --Alpha Blondy
To Unsubscribe: Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the command
To Subscribe to Digest: Email email@example.com with the command
All messages to sanet-mg are archived at: