China's land grabs: A case study

About 80,000 to 100,000 protests, what Beijing call &quotmass incidents,&quot occur every year, many of them concerning the confiscation of farmland for commercial purposes as the economy continues to grow.


    As the autumn harvest draws ever nearer, villagers in Liuxiazhuang have found themselves, quite suddenly, landless.

    Documents provided to Al Jazeera by township-level officials showed contracts the government entered into on September 10 - less than two weeks ago.  

    Four days later, villagers at Liuxiazhuang received notices of the confiscation of parts of their farmland and the bulldozers promptly rolled in.  

    This took place just weeks ahead of the autumn harvest, and the farmers could hardly believe they had not only lost their land, but their last season of crops.

    It did not appear that the new developers could wait a single moment for work on their latest project - a series of industrial and manufacturing parks - to begin.

    Deputy Party Secretary Li Xiaofei, who is in charge of Liuxiazhuang, explained, "everyone" had been aware of this project and the plans to convert the land into a large-scale industrial and commercial park.

    "During this entire land dispute, we have followed the laws. Everything we have done us is legal. Of course, what has happened is unfortunate," said Li.

    But I also want you to understand that the villagers are looking out for their own interests, and will push for as much as they can get out of this."

    By Li's own admission, he has personally handled this entire land redistribution case and says the township-level has accepted full responsibility for the deal.  

    What has incensed farmers have been the details of the agreement between the government and the property developers: rental for each mu (the Chinese calculation for a unit of land) went for about $100 (about 700 yuan) with a 15-year lease.  

    Considering the region is one of the wealthiest parts of China, the developers had received a windfall. The market rate for a mu of land typically runs at $42,000 (270,000 yuan). The discrepancy between the two figures is striking.

    Other details and documents Al Jazeera English examined only served to confuse the situation even more.

     More than $6,000 (40,000 yuan) have been pledged by the government to the village collective for each unit of land taken.  

    Yet, none of the villagers we spoke to appeared aware of the existence of this money set aside ostensibly for them.

    According to villagers, they have not received a penny from the deal so far.  

    That raises questions about who that money has gone to, with suspicions from locals falling on the village chief: a colourful character who showed up drunk for an interview with Al Jazeera.

    Quite aside from the financial confusion, there has been a brutal side to this episode, too.

    On September 16, hired hooligans appeared at the village with metal pipes in hand to give dissenters a beating. Young and old alike were brutally beaten.  

    Elderly women showed me bruises on their arms, a man showed me a welt on his back, and at least one local ended up in the hospital, currently linked to an intravenous drip and moaning in a semi-conscious state.

    We asked about the violence in our interview with Li, the deputy party secretary.

    "The matter is under investigation and will be taken very seriously," he said.

    He went on to say that he had been present on September 16, the day of the alleged attacks.

    If true, that matches with statements by villagers that men beat them as party cadres and police officers looked on.  

    But Li's version of the day did not include attacks against residents, and he was non-committal about these accusations, only repeating that matters were under investigation.

    We did the math with the numbers provided by the government.  

    Not all villagers will be affected by the land seizure. Officials told us about 300-400 people will be affected of the 1,700 villagers in this tiny mountain hamlet.  

    With 400 mu of land converted, and $6,000 (40,000 yuan) per mu for the village, that comes to about $6,800 (43,000 yuan) per affected villager.  

    Without any other means of income, the $10,000 can stretch for a few years based on the cost of living in that area, in exchange for the loss of land that may have been occupied by a farming family for generations.

    "What will they do after the money runs out?" I asked.

    "Well. They do receive social insurance," one of the officials piped up. "The elderly receive 100 yuan [$15] a month!"



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