Huaxi/Huankantou: A New Chinese Tourist Mecca
Okay, what is so attractive about the village of Huankantou (王坎头村) in Huaxi town, Dongyang county, Zhejiang province of China that tens of thousands of visitors are flocking over there as of this week? Frankly, it does not look very appealing from these three photos.
To understand the phenomenon, we have to go back to Didi Kirsten Tatlow's report in SCMP on April 13, 2005:
The trouble in this verdant, hilly part of Zhejiang province, two hours south of the provincial capital of Hangzhou , started in 2001 when local officials handed 66 hectares of land to 13 private and state-owned chemical plants. Wang Weikang, 58, who still farms 933 square metres of land, said villagers didn't know what was happening when they suddenly discovered the land they farmed belonged to someone else.
Villagers say the village committee signed a contract with nearby Dongyang city behind their backs. Dongyang government spokesman Chen Qixian said the deal was lawful, since the village committee had the right to represent villagers.
The plants were built in 2002 and then, said Mr Wang and other villagers, the sicknesses started. "Lots of people started falling ill. Some days our eyes would sting ... from the gas from the plants. Babies were born dead or malformed. Nine in the past year alone," he said.
Villagers said the chemical plants polluted the village's water supply. "It had become the colour of soy sauce," said one.
Huaxi's river, the Huashui, runs a strange caramel colour, though the main eyesore are the heaps of plastic bags that cling to its edges.
"We want our land back. We don't want compensation. We want vegetables to grow again and the water to run clean," said Mr Wang.
To stop shipments from the plants, villagers threw up road blocks on March 24 and built straw shelters.
More than 1,000 police and officials, who arrived before dawn on Sunday to tear down road blocks erected by villagers, instead found themselves involved in a pitched battle. Villagers say when the police - numbering 3,000, they say - arrived, they also brought cattle prods. Wang Xiaomei , 70, said: "Those police. They were worse than the Japanese".
Early on Sunday, rumours started spreading that two elderly women had died when police tried to storm the village and angry villagers poured out of their homes, driving police into the school yard. The police barricaded the gate, but villagers bashed down the brick school wall. They stoned the police. Hand-to-hand combat ensued. The police fled.
[Aside: As I have noted previously in The Great Chinese War Against Japan, the Japanese serve as the standard benchmark for brutality and inhumanity to the Chinese. Thus, in the above, 70-year-old Wang Xiaomei said: "Those police. They were worse than the Japanese."]
On BBC News, Francis Markus wrote on April 15, 2005:
A Chinese village has become a tourist attraction after residents fought a pitched battle with police, who retreated after dozens were injured. ... Residents say tens of thousands of people from nearby towns and cities have flocked each day to visit the site of last Sunday's confrontation, in the village of Huaxi, in eastern China's Zhejiang province.
What will you see if you go there? Unfortunately, you are unlikely to be able go there to see for yourself. As Didi Kirsten Tatlow found out:
On the way out of town, a siren started up behind us and a tannoy barked: "Pull over!" I was detained by police, my notes destroyed and pictures wiped from my camera. I have to sign a confession - I broke the relevant reporting regulations of the People's Republic of China by going to Huaxi without asking for permission.
Boxun has an account by a Chinese 'tourist' which I have translated in a shortened form (that is, for lack of time, I omitted minor details).
On April 4, I headed towards Huankantou village in a rented car. When I got close to the village, I found out that there were police road blocks to prevent cars from entering. However, I saw a public bus full of people being allowed in. So I asked my driver to drop me off at the bus station, and I got on the bus too. The bus was full, and they were all headed to check out the scene.
When the bus got there, I saw that the roadside was parked with cars from as faraway as Jiangsu. As we headed inside, it got more crowded and there were vendors on the roadside selling their wares. This was just like a market day.
At the entrance to the secondary school building, several elderly persons were maintaining order and asking people to put out their cigarettes before entering the school and answering questions. I followed the flow of the crowd. We turned right, and a number of toppled sedans appeared in front of us, with broken glass strewn all over the ground. Every car had been damaged. I counted fifteen cars, including a BMW. One of the cars was still leaking gasoline. I went back to the entrance and reminded the people about safety. Later, two blackboards were erected to remind people about personal safety.
Anyway, I continued my tour by following the crowd. On the car lane in the schoolyard, there was an overturned sedan. There was a police car on the flower bed, and its head was bashed in with the word "Police" dented. Next to the cafeteria, there were two more sedans, one being upside down and the other had broken class.
The crowd moved through the car lane and entered the open area in front of the school room building. It was a spectacular sight. There were two rows of luxury buses in the yard, all of them with deflated tires and broken windows. There were three to four cars overturned on their sides.
There were 38 buses altogether. If each can carry 30 people, then there were 1,140 persons. According to the villagers, there were about 100 buses in total, plus another 40 sedans. There must have been thousands of government workers and police officers here at the time.
When we got into the school room building, we saw some police uniforms, helmets, nightsticks, shields, knifes, red armbands left on the ground. It was reported that the villagers had collected more of these items as evidence.
We exited the school and we followed the concrete road westwards. We can see some factories with towers. There was a factory building under construction, and this must be the chemical factory that triggered this incident.
We went ahead for another couple of hundred meters, and we came to these bamboo stands about 100 meters in front of the chemical factory. This were the "illegal" structures that the government wanted to remove. We can still see three of them, but the rest are just straws and bamboo poles lying on the ground after the government "removed them according to the law" on April 10.
One large bamboo stand occupied the entire concrete roadway. There was a damaged pickup truck next to it with the letters "Communist Party" etched onto it. At the front of the bamboo stand, there were police uniforms, helmets, watermelon knifes, machetes, electric police batons, tear gas canisters, red armbands, shields, and so on. The red armbands had numbers like "1061" and "689."
In front of the bamboo stand was a table with a donation box. There were seven or eight women, all older than 60 years. The women were telling people about the pollution problems and their dealings with the law. They spoke calmly, but their tone carried anger and sorrow. The spectators took out their digital camera and camera phones to record.
On our way back, there were four old man building another bamboo stand. Although their original stands were demolished, they will continue their struggle by erecting new ones.
When we got back to the school entrance, an old man was addressing a large crowd in an emotional manner: "Dongyang television said that our government came here to help the people. Today, you have come and seen with your own eyes. I think that you can all see that the government came in sixty, seventy buses and brought thousands of government workers to help the people with knives, batons and even tear gas."
On this one day, more than ten thousand 'tourists' came to see the battlefield for themselves.
What is the significance of Huankantou? The local problem with respect to the polluting chemical plants can be easily resolved by the government. Just send down a national-level official to talk to the villagers, express shock that such terrible things can be happening, promise them that the chemical plants will be halted, that the environment will be cleaned up, that the responsible local officials will be disciplined and that compensation will be determined. Then the whole matter is over and done with, with the eternal gratitude of the local citizens.
The greater significance is the symbolism of the resistance action, which is why these tens of thousand of 'tourists' have heard about the event and made the pilgrimage here to see for themselves. Yes, it is possible to fight back against a massive force of armed policemen, because in the end the People's Police will not fire on the People. Or at least none of these local officials will give the order to do so because they knew what the consequences will be for themselves. It was different on June 4, 1989 because that decision came from the highest authority. In Huankantou, if the country leader had ordered the police to shoot to kill, his ass will be grass afterwards because it will suit his bosses fine to pin the blame on him alone.
Here are some of the photos that were posted at Boxun:
(South China Morning Post) 4 Huaxi protesters handed jail terms. By Didi Kirsten Tatlow. January 10, 2006.
Nine villagers accused of taking part in a riot against factory pollution in the village of Huaxi last year were sentenced by a court in Zhejiang province yesterday.
Four were jailed, four received suspended sentences and one person who turned government witness was acquitted. In the heaviest sentence, the court in Lanxi handed Liu Huirong, 29, up to five years for assaulting police officers.
Families and lawyers of the accused greeted the sentences with indignation. "I'm furious," said Wang Xiaofang, sister of Wang Liangping, 40, sentenced to 15 months in jail. "My brother was in court as the verdict was read out and he's practically mute," said Ms Wang, who says her brother is of below average intelligence after suffering meningitis as a child. "I will appeal against the verdict, but the result will be the same. They just don't want to give us justice."
Liu's lawyer, Beijing-based Wei Rujiu, said he believed his client was punished for hiring the well-known advocate as his lawyer. Mr Wei led a group of Beijing-based lawyers who represented the Huaxi accused for free. He said he was coming under pressure from the authorities. "The Zhejiang Judicial Bureau has complained to the Beijing Judicial Bureau, saying Beijing lawyers are creating social unrest. Maybe I will be forced to resign," he said. Mr Wei works with King and Capital Lawyers. Mainland lawyers must register with their local judicial bureau, which can cancel the licences of those the government regards as troublesome.
Wang Zhongliang and Wang Hongwei were sentenced to 18 and eight months jail respectively; while Wang Xiaopan, Lu Hongping, Jiang Yonggen and Wang Fagen received suspended jail terms of up to 17 months. Wang Xinwang was acquitted.
All nine accused denied the charge of rioting and said they were tortured in custody. Neither the Lanxi court nor Dongyang officials were available for comment.
(Washington Post) China Sentences 3 Peasant Activists. By Edward Cody. January 10, 2006.
A Chinese court sentenced three villagers to prison terms ranging from one to five years Monday after convicting them of illegal acts during a peasant riot last April in Zhejiang province, according to attorneys and village activists.
After the violence, about 50 Huaxi residents were taken into custody and interrogated at length; some were subjected to what their attorneys described as torture. Eventually, nine were formally arrested and charged with assault or inciting disorder. The nine, including one villager who became an informer, were put on trial last month in the nearby city of Lanxi.
Wei Rujiu, one of six Beijing lawyers who helped defend them, said Liu Huirong, 29, was sentenced to five years after he was convicted of assaulting a policeman. Wang Zongliang, 34, was sentenced to one year and Wang Liangping, 40, was sentenced to 15 months, both for inciting social disorder. Wei said Liu Huirong and Wang Liangping planned to appeal. The six others were convicted of causing disturbances and received suspended sentences, the attorney added.
Wang Liangping's sister, Wang Xiaofang, said her brother told her he accepted police suggestions that he had participated in assaults on police only to get interrogators to stop beating him. The sister said in a recent interview that Wang is mentally retarded and had fled the area long before police were beaten.
(Reuters AlertNet) China jails three villagers over pollution riots. January 9, 2006.
A Chinese court sentenced three villagers for up to five years in prison on Monday for their roles in a violent protest over factory pollution, defence lawyers said.
The People's Court in neighbouring Lanxi city sentenced Liu Huirong, 29, to five years in prison on a charge of assault, defence lawyers Wei Rujiu and Li Heping said by telephone. Wang Liangping, 39, was given a 15-month jail sentence and Wang Zhongliang, 34, one year on a charge of creating disturbances, Wei said. Six others villagers were also convicted of creating disturbances but received suspended sentences and would be freed on Monday, Wei said.
"Nobody here accepts the verdict. The facts are clear but the court ignored all of them," Liu's wife, Si Xiaoying, told Reuters. "My husband even saved a policeman. They just want to find a scapegoat and close the case as soon as possible."