Apologies if this is a dupe
Beijing — Darkness had fallen on the fishing town of Dongzhou when the riot police marched into town. There were hundreds of them, carrying shields and wearing helmets and body armour.
It was the night of Dec. 6, a little more than a week ago. Just a few hours earlier, police had clashed with hundreds of villagers fighting the seizure of their land for a power plant. Now the paramilitary troops were back in full force — and with assault rifles.
The police had been ordered to arrest the protest leaders in this town of 10,000 people in southern China. A throng of villagers gathered to confront them.
At first, it seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary, just another of the rising number of street protests that erupt in China every year.
But what happened in the next few minutes was a shocking sign of the mounting violence of those clashes, a violence that China's leaders and some students of the regime believe could one day threaten the stability of the Chinese government.
The ruthless suppression of the villagers of Dongzhou was a troubling reminder that China has not yet abandoned the brutal tactics that led to the slaughter of hundreds of students at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Fearful of retribution, most villagers refused to discuss the clash, but dozens did provide a detailed account of the terrifying moments when the police opened fire.
Standing in the darkness with the crowd of villagers that evening was a 30-year-old factory worker whose surname is Chen. He and his 26-year-old brother-in-law, Lin Yidui, had left their home separately to search for his mother and bring her back from the dangerous confrontation. Now they were both caught up in the crowd, transfixed by the menacing line of police.
The mood was turning ugly. The hundreds of protesters stood about 200 metres away from the heavily armed police. Some were threatening the police with Molotov cocktails and fishing detonators.
About 7 p.m., the police stood aside to make room for a large vehicle with two bright spotlights on the top. The darkness was so thick that the villagers couldn't make out the purpose of the vehicle.
Mr. Chen assumed it was a water cannon. On television, he had sometimes seen the police using them to disperse a crowd.
A few minutes later, he heard a noise that astonished him. It was a burst of gunfire from an automatic weapon. In the glare of the lights from the police vehicle, he could see flashes of flame from the guns. It looked like firecrackers exploding in the darkness.
Within moments, there was chaos in the crowd. “Run for your lives,” somebody shouted. “They are shooting.”
Fresh bursts of gunfire kept coming. Wherever the spotlights landed, the bullets followed. The police were moving forward. “Charge!” some of the police yelled.
A minute later, Mr. Chen heard a cry from a man on a motorcycle near him. “I'm shot, I'm shot,” he moaned as he fell.
He and another man grabbed the injured man. They put him on the motorcycle and raced to the nearest hospital, about a kilometre away.
When they reached the hospital, where there was enough light to see properly, he was shocked to discover that the injured man was his brother-in-law, Lin Yidui.
Mr. Chen couldn't believe it. His brother-in-law was not a protest leader. He was running a business in Shanghai and was planning to be married soon. He had returned to his hometown just a few days earlier to gather documents for a marriage certificate.
The doctors rushed to help the injured man. He didn't seem badly wounded — there was no visible injury, no blood on his face or clothes.
But when they tore open his clothes, they discovered a small bullet hole over his heart. When they pressed his chest, blood came gushing up from the wound. He was dead.
Back at the scene of the confrontation, others were dying, too. An elderly man was among those at the front of the crowd of villagers. He, too, was shot. With a gunshot wound to his leg, he fell to the ground, unable to move. And then, according to the accounts of several villagers, he was shot again and killed. According to those same accounts, the police chased other villagers, up a hill or into the sea, and shot them, too.
The gunfire continued sporadically all night. Some villagers heard shots as late as 3 a.m.
The next morning, Mr. Chen went back to the hospital and took home the body of his brother-in-law. According to traditional Chinese custom, the body had to be buried right away. So, that afternoon, the family put him in a coffin and buried him quietly in a rough plot near their home, with only his family present.
In the following days, the blood stains at the site of the confrontation were washed away by a police vehicle. But the villagers gathered their own evidence: hundreds of spent bullet shells.
Five days after the shooting, the police commander who ordered it was detained for “mishandling” the conflict. Officially, the authorities have acknowledged that three villagers were killed and eight injured in the shooting. The villagers insist that many more — perhaps as many as 20 —were killed by the police gunshots, and dozens more were injured. Dozens of protesters have disappeared, and nobody knows if they are in police custody or dead.
The Dongzhou confrontation was a dramatic example of a trend that deeply worries China's Communist rulers. In 1993, there were about 8,700 protests and other “mass incidents” in China. By last year, that number had skyrocketed to 74,000. And the number of protests is soaring despite China's rapid economic growth, which was supposed to defuse the discontent and maintain the regime's stability.
If the social unrest continues to worsen, it could eventually threaten the Communist regime and trigger a political tsunami. Authorities are under heavy pressure to control the unrest, yet the protesters are becoming tougher and more confrontational. Despite orders to avoid bloodshed, the Chinese police are increasingly likely to resort to violence as they struggle to control the demonstrations.
“There is increasing consensus that the form of protests is changing in ways that Beijing will find harder to control,” said Murray Scot Tanner, senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation in the United States. He has extensively studied the trends in Chinese protest activity.
“Police officials note that protests are growing larger in size and that ‘repetitive' or long-lasting protests are on the rise,” Dr. Tanner concluded in a report this year.
“Demonstrators are increasingly reaching across the old boundaries of workplace and office unit, and their levels of organization, use of communications technology and tactical cleverness is increasing. While police insist that most protests are peaceful, they also report that ‘confrontativeness' and violence are on the rise.”
Eight years ago, the typical incident in China had 10 or fewer protesters; by 2003, the average had topped 50 and an increasing number of protests involved hundreds or thousands of people. In the city of Guangzhou, in the same province as Dongzhou, one out of every seven incidents involved more than 100 protesters.
While the protests are becoming bigger, they are also becoming more violent and more intense. A survey of 87 recent conflicts between farmers and police showed that more than 160 people were arrested in the confrontations, while hundreds were injured and three killed. In a dozen of those conflicts, riot police or special forces were involved. In seven cases, armed police were deployed. Some of the protesting farmers were even tied up and paraded through the streets.
“Local governments frequently resort to police force to deal with farmers who have lost their land and are fighting for their rights,” wrote Yu Jianrong, a researcher at Hebei University in China who conducted the survey. “Enormous stakes are involved. . . . Once the farmer struggle enters the stage of demanding rights for governance, it may become a large-scale social political movement.”
Behind all of this is a fundamental shift in China's political culture, a shift with worrying consequences for the Communist authorities. Scholars are debating whether the rising unrest could some day trigger a “tipping point” in China's social stability.
“China's rapid economic growth, rising access to education and information, and increasing exposure to notions of ‘contracts' and ‘rights' are apparently producing an increasingly assertive society,” Dr. Tanner wrote.
“After 25 years of economic and political reforms, many average Chinese citizens are simply more willing to take their demands into the streets. . . . Many appear to have forgotten the bloody ‘lesson' that Deng Xiaoping administered in the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.”
In a sign of the government's growing alarm, Beijing announced in August that it was creating special police units in 36 cities to suppress “riots.”
One of the bloodiest clashes in recent years was a confrontation in Hebei province between hundreds of protesting farmers and about 300 heavily armed thugs who were hired by local officials and land developers.
Six farmers were killed by the thugs armed with shotguns, clubs, metal pipes and knives. The farmers fought back with pitchforks and poles. Yesterday, the government announced that a local Communist official and 26 others would be put on trial for organizing the attack.
In a clash in April, sparked by pollution from a chemical factory in Zhejiang province, thousands of villagers fought back against more than 1,000 riot police, smashing their vehicles and putting 30 policemen in hospital. And in Sichuan last year, as many as 100,000 farmers fought against thousands of police in a dispute over farmland seized for a hydro plant. Several people were killed and scores injured.
Much of the bloodshed is due to a corrupt alliance between local officials and business interests — a “power-money coalition,” in the words of Wu Guoguang, a former Chinese government adviser who is now a political scientist at the University of Victoria.
“They certainly arouse more and more discontent,” he said in an interview. “When they find such protests unbearable, they use their guns. This means that the increasing trend of protests will continue, and the frequency of bloody crackdowns will also increase.”
Hou Wenzhuo, a Chinese activist who heads the Empowerment and Rights Institute, a human rights organization inside China, says the growing protests are a result of rising economic inequality and a lack of political rights. “Because of the lack of protection of their rights, farmers are more willing to resort to desperate means,” she said in an interview. “Chinese society has evolved into something like Karl Marx's society, where some of the powerful and wealthy class are depriving the poor of the opportunity for justice or equality. This leads to a violent confrontation or a sudden burst of people's anger,” she said.
In the aftermath of the brutal killings in Dongzhou, the town remains in a state of fear, sealed off from the outside world. Police are still conducting raids and searches from house to house, seeking to arrest the surviving protesters.
At 10 p.m. on Tuesday night, a week after the shootings, there was a knock on the door of one village home. Eight policemen, including two with guns, entered the home and grabbed the father of the family, leading him away.
The next day, dozens of police returned to the home. They searched every corner, confiscating a shovel and other farming tools.
“We have no way of fighting them,” said the daughter of the arrested man. She broke into sobs over the telephone. “Please help us get justice,” she begged.
Mr. Chen worries that the officials will dig up the coffin of his brother-in-law and burn the body to destroy the evidence. “The town is in a panic,” he says. “We don't know what will happen next. Some villagers depend on fishing, but they don't dare to go out because of the police checks and roadblocks.”
He remains at his family's home, trying to comfort his grieving mother-in-law, who has fallen sick. Local officials have visited the house, trying to placate the mourning family with vague words of sympathy. “These words just make us more angry and sad,” he says. “Only a proper solution can comfort us, not these useless words.”
History has shown that sooner or later the poulation of oppresively governed countries throw off their chains. It just takes enough of a movement.
Here's hoping it's sooner.
ETA - anyone else notice the lack of foriegn media in PRC? Guess they don't want another internationally televised spectacular like they had back at Tianamen..
Boy, this got a lot of attention.
Actually history does not teach that... eventually the oppressor may wear out or actually be assimilated into the local population but more likely just replaced with something as bad or worse.
Liberation is not the rule but the exception and chains are the historical norm
Yup. The USSR only changed when it collapsed and someone in charge didn't want to take everyone down with it. The US with its successful revolution and democratic government was unprecedented. The French tried to emulate us and just ended up slaughtering one another and getting taken over by a different dictator than the one they started out with.
Not to sound cold about it, but Freedom Isn't Free. I care, but am not moved to do anything until the Chinese people want to help themselves.
Every time they try to help themselves they get machine gunned and run over with tanks, dumbass.
Well until they kill a few Chinese "cops" and get their OWN automatic weapons I guess this will continue to happen then.
The 'regular' folks are disarmed and the cops and military have guns.
Just what they want to do here.
The same thing everybody else does. Use a knife to get a gun. Use gun to get an RPG. Us an RPG to get a tank.
And give the RPG to your buddy when you get the tank so you can take the choppers out
Why use a butterknife when you can use mining/construction explosives?