According to the National Appeals Bureau, one of the biggest issues brought forth by petitioners is local government taking farmers’ land for development projects. This year, the number of petition letters increased by 50% and the number of petitioners increased by 47% over 2003 figures. From June to August of 2004, more than 19,000 people visited the Beijing Appeals office, a record high since China’s economic reform began in the late 1970s.
On October 4, 2004 at 3 am, the Yulin municipal government in Shanxi Province mobilized 1,600 police officers and surrounded the village of San Cha Wan. The police opened fire and wounded 50 farmers and arrested 30 people, 23 of them women. Yulin Mayor Wang Denji and Chief of Police Yang Yong led this operation.
This incident was the last in a series of events triggered by the Yulin municipal government’s March 2002 announcement, which stated that it would repossess 3,200 acres of woodland from farmers for the Yulin Economic Development Project. It promised to pay 500 yuan per acre as compensation to the farmers, but sold the land for more than 350,000 yuan per acre to development companies. Around 15,000 farmers in the seven affected villages protested this decision by sending petitions to Beijing. After many such petitions yielded no result, the 3,600 residents of San Cha Wan, who were affected the most since they lost 1,600 acres of land, decided to hold a sit-in on their land and resisted four attempts by the municipal government to take over the land. Each of these attempts involved hundreds of police, peaking at 3,000 police at one point, and a total of over 100 farmers were arrested. To date, the government has repossessed over 80% of the land and 40% of the woodland has been cleared for development.
The municipal government believes that the land is government owned, based on an administrative decision made in 1951 by the People’s Liberation Army’s Northwest Political Commission. On the other hand, the farmers believe that the land belongs to the community because the village has a government-issued document, recognizing their ownership of the land since before 1949 and stating that the land still belonged to the village after the revolution. During the past 50 years, the villagers had put in vast resources and manpower to transform the desert into a wooded area, and are now refusing to turn these woodlands over to the municipal government.
After the incident on October 4, in an open letter to the Chairman of the Communist Party Hu Jintao, the people of San Cha Wan, as well as 15,000 farmers from the surrounding villages, requested the Central Committee of the Communist Party to investigate the ownership of the land and the use of force by the local authorities.
Based on a report from the Protecting Citizens’ Rights website: