Thousands March Over Land Grab in Fujian

Several thousand people took to the streets for the fourth day in a row on Wednesday to protest the loss of their farmland in the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian, local residents said.

The protesters gathered on the disputed land near Fujian's coastal town of Quanzhou to demand higher compensation for more than 3,000 mu (495 hectares) of farmland requisitioned by the government without negotiating with local people, a resident who gave only her surname Chen told RFA.

Photos of the protests posted online by participants showed villagers dressed in red clothing and carrying yellow cloth banners with the words "Give us back our land!" printed on them, as well as rows of police in uniform.

"The land belongs to the farmers, but the government sold it off, and the farmers haven't received any of the money," said Chen, a fellow protester and resident of Quanzhou's Xunbu village.

"Of course we want to obstruct them, if that's how they're going to do things," she said. "We here in Xunbu village haven't seen a penny [in compensation]."

She said villagers were taking turns to go to the site daily to obstruct construction work on the land.

A second villager, also surnamed Chen, said the government was backing a property development called Marina East on the site.

"People are going there every day to kick up a fuss," he said, adding that some villagers had received 900 yuan (U.S. $150) in compensation for the land, a small fraction of their share in its current market value.

Chen said the holiday homes in the complex under construction will sell for 40,000 yuan (U.S. $6,600) per square meter, and the apartments for more than 20,000 yuan (U.S. $3,300) per square meter.

"All the villagers are very opposed to this," he said. "All of Xunbu's farmland has been requisitioned now."

Chen said that amid the recent property boom in southern China, even warehouse space in the area cost 10,000 yuan (U.S. $1,650) per square meter.

Already 'decided'

An official who answered the phone at the Fengyi district government offices, which administer Xunbu and nearby villages, declined to comment.

"You should ask the department in charge of land requisitions, demolitions and evictions," the official said.

But he added: "Matters regarding Xunbu have already been decided in a meeting."

Meanwhile, an official who answered the phone at the Quanzhou municipal government offices on Wednesday said the dispute had already been resolved.

"This matter has been dealt with," the official said. "The complaints office knows about it."

But he added: "I know the farmers' lives are tough and that the countryside is very poor, but things can't be improved all at once; we have to take it gradually."

In an apparent admission that graft might be involved, the official said the anti-corruption drive initiated by President Xi Jinping would take time to filter down to lower levels of government.

"It's not as if the Quanzhou government can get the central government to come here and do it for us," he said. "This has to percolate down through the different levels of government."

Beating graft

Since taking office in March, Xi has warned that the ruling Chinese Communist Party must beat graft in order to survive, and has launched a campaign targeting powerful "tigers" as well as lowly "flies."

But political analysts say the authorities will use the campaign largely as a tool against their political opponents, and that calls for full transparency and public whistle-blowing are still highly unwelcome.

The requisitioning of rural land for lucrative property deals by cash-hungry local governments also triggers thousands of "mass incidents" across China every year.

Many result in violent suppression, the detention of the main organizers, and intense pressure on the local population to comply with the government's wishes.

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Grace Kei Lai-see for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.