Video of the clashes secretly recorded by a villager later showed the body of a middle-aged man in a red shirt lying inside the lobby of a government office building.

The man's relatives had apparently taken his body to local officials in protest at their treatment.

Land disputes are common in China, where local governments often sell plots of land to construction companies with little compensation for local residents.

The clashes in Liling highlight concerns among China's leadership that the current economic downturn, and the subsequent loss of jobs, could lead to a spike in social unrest.