The Shantou Incident
The following are the media reports on the Shantou mass incident about the tearing down of the sluice gates. There are the usual problems with inaccurate (or, at least, conflicting) information such as the number of civilians injured during the clash with the police or the legality of the sluice gates.
To be absolutely clear, I am not here to tell you what really happened. I don't know. I am just a newspaper reader, who probably reads more than most people. This post recontructs what an interested reader would read in chronological fashion.
(SCMP) Six villagers hurt in clash with police in Shantou. Chow Chungyan in Shenzhen and Kristine Kwok. April 13, 2006.
At least six villagers were injured in a clash in Guangdong yesterday as police demolished a sluice gate that the government said was illegal, sources and villagers said. Three residents of Bomei village, in Shantou's Xilu township, were seriously injured, a villager said. One was a woman who was hit in the head by a tear gas canister.
The clash erupted at about 8am yesterday when more than 1,000 police went to demolish two sluice gates the villagers built last year. Armed with homemade weapons including petrol bombs, villagers fought to keep the police from the gates. Sources said one villager was arrested. All the injured were sent to the Dafeng Hospital in Chaoyang , which is administered by Shantou.
The smaller of the two sluice gates was blown up by the police. The gates were believed to have affected the fung shui of a neighbouring village and had triggered disputes between the neighbours. The city government classified the sluice gates as illegal constructions after inspections and ordered them to be demolished earlier this year, a villager said.
Another villager said the crowd dispersed before noon, but the police stayed in the village until the afternoon. A report by Radio Free Asia quoted a villager as saying the sluice gates were the only source of irrigation in the village, with a population of more than 10,000. The city and township governments were unavailable for comment yesterday.
(Associated Press) Villagers, Police Clash in South China. Audra Ang. April 13, 2006.
Thousands of villagers clashed with police in southern China over government plans to tear down sluice gates built for irrigation, leaving one woman dead and several people injured, newspapers and witnesses said Thursday. About 4,000 villagers gathered Wednesday to stop police from demolishing the pair of gates in Bomei, a village in Guangdong province, and were dispersed with tear gas and water cannons, according to Hong Kong's Ming Pao Daily. The newspaper and Radio Free Asia, a U.S.-funded broadcaster, said a woman in her 30s was killed. Radio Free Asia said she was hit in the head by a tear gas canister. Ming Pao said at least 10 other people were injured.
The South China Morning Post newspaper said the villagers were armed with "homemade weapons including petrol bombs" and fought to keep more than 1,000 police officers from the gates. An official in Xilu, the town which oversees Bomei, said he was "unclear" about the situation and hung up. Telephone calls to government offices in Bomei and to the provincial government were not answered. One villager was arrested, according to the South China Morning Post.
... Such fierce confrontations between farmers and authorities are becoming more common across China's vast countryside as bitterness grows over corruption and land seizures. "There was chaos here," said one villager who was reached by telephone. He gave only his surname, Huang, for fear of official retaliation. Huang said villagers built the sluice gates in September to irrigate their crops, but the local officials deemed the structures illegal. When the government decided to tear the gates down, "this enraged us," Huang said.
(Ming Pao via Yahoo! News) 汕頭8000警民對打傳1死. April 13, 2006.
In Bomei village, Xilu town, Chaoyang district, Shantou city, there was a major clash between citizens and police. Several thousand villagers prevented the authorities from tearing down sluice gates, and the military police used tear gas to disperse the villages, causing several dozen injuries among the villagers.
According to information, a thirty-something-year-old female died from her injuries sustained during the clash.
Eyewitnesses told this newspaper that around 9am, the government sent several dozens of people into the village to tear down sluice gates which were alleged to be illegally constructed. About 4,000 to 5,000 villagers attempted to stop them, but the government personnel insisted on carrying out their actions and this caused the villagers got excited and at one point they detained the deputy mayor of Shantou in charge of the government operation. About 2,000 to 3,000 armed riot police officers then entered Bomei village and they used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the villagers. There were serious conflicts between the two sides.
According to eyewitnesses, the clash resulted in dozens of injuries among villagers. In order to avoid an escalation, the authorities have temporarily stopped trying to tear down the sluice gates. The villagers faced off with the armed police until around noon before dispersing.
According to information, the villagers have been trying to prevent the government from tearing down the sluice gates for more than two months. After this clash, the police have sealed off the area and forbade outsiders from entering.
The villagers said that the two sluice gates were located near a school. The villagers paid to get the gates constructed last September. But the authorities said that the gates had not received approval and are therefore illegal constructions. They ordered the villagers to dismantle the gates themselves, but the villagers refused to comply.
(Radio Free Asia) Hundreds of Villagers Keep Vigil After Clash. April 13, 2006.
Hundreds of people in Bomei village, in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, are occupying land around a disputed sluice-gate that local authorities want to destroy, although the gate controls irrigation water for local farmers. Villagers feared further violence following the death of a woman who was hit by a teargas canister Wednesday. An estimated 1,000 armed police had been drafted to the area and were standing by a few miles (kms) from the demonstration, they told RFA’s Cantonese service.
“It looks quite peaceful during the daytime. But more than 1,000 armed police are gradually gathering a few miles away from the village,” a local resident identified only by his surname Wang said. “Many police vehicles, too.” “We heard the police are going to take action tonight. So we urge all the villagers to come out to the gates again. About 1,000 villagers are still there. Three to four villagers are still in detention,” he said. He said local authorities had imposed a news blackout on the area, and that a reporter from Hong Kong’s Chinese-language Oriental Daily News had been detained after trying to get into the village. Wang said he witnessed violent clashes earlier in the week as tensions mounted. “All the injured villagers were sent to the hospital. But they are highly monitored by the police. We will fight for this until we die,” he said.
A woman resident said: “We are so scared now. We heard about the dead and injured in the clash.” “But the government tells us nothing. They do not allow us to talk about this. We want to complain about this but there is no way to do so.”
An official on duty at the nearby Heping Hospital denied any knowledge of the incident. “We know nothing about this. If you want to interview us, you have to get credentials from the local propaganda department,” the official said.
A woman was killed and an unknown number of people were injured following a dispute plans to tear down the sluice gates in Bomei on Wednesday. Police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowd, witnesses said.
A 34-year-old woman died en route to hospital after she was struck by a tear-gas canister, while five villagers suffered head injuries that witnesses described as “serious.”
A duty officer at the Guangdong provincial public security office in Guangzhou declined to comment Wednesday.
Bomei village is administered by Xilu township in the Chaoyang district of Shantou municipality. Under China's existing arrangements, all land belongs to the state, but land-use rights and limited leases can be sold and exchanged on the open market. Under the Household Responsibility System brought in by Deng Xiaoping in 1980, rural authorities contract land to the collective, often a village, which in turn distributes it to individual households. But heavily indebted local governments often fall back on the use of rural land within their jurisdiction for property developments. Rural protesters have frequently reported the use of secret meetings, bullying tactics, and mob violence by governments to enforce unpopular land transactions.
(SCMP) Five held after clash over illegal sluice gates. Chow Chungyan. April 14, 2006.
Mainland police arrested five village leaders from Bomei village in Shantou yesterday after a violent clash between villagers and officers sent to demolish a sluice gate which the government said was illegal. The five people were taken from their homes to a nearby hotel yesterday morning. They did not resist and were well treated by the police, according to one villager. Seven villagers have now been detained for organising the violent protest on Wednesday, in which thousands of villagers clashed with armed police.
The villagers pelted the police with stones and Molotov cocktails, and the police returned fire with tear gas. At least six people were injured. Three local officials, including a deputy district director, were abducted by villagers during the chaos on Wednesday and are now being held as hostages near another sluice gate which the authorities have threatened to blow up.
The situation was quiet but tense in Bomei village yesterday. Police did not proceed with attempts to destroy the second sluice gate, apparently worried about the hostages' safety. 'They haven't made any mass arrests and have been polite to those they have taken away,' a villager said.
On Wednesday, about 5,000 residents of Bomei village, in Shantou's Xilu township, tried to stop police officers who went to demolish two sluice gates the villagers built last year. The government said the sluice gates were illegal and had caused feuds among villagers in the area. The smaller of the two gates was blown up by police. An earlier report by Radio Free Asia quoted a villager as saying the sluice gates were the only source of irrigation in the village, with a population of more than 10,000.
Several Hong Kong and overseas reporters were briefly detained yesterday in Shantou for covering the incident.
(Ming Pao via Yahoo! News) 汕頭鎮壓 村民誓灑血護閘 警拒證實有人死亡 禁止採訪 April 14, 2006
Villagers in Shantou, Guangdong, protested the authorities who were tearing down sluice gates used for irrigation. On the day before yesterday (April 12), they were suppressed by riot police using tear gas and water cannons. There was one death and six injuries among the villagers, but the villagers refused to back down. Yesterday, they unfurled a banner "Protect water works" and said that they "will use their blood to protect this sluice gate."
Yesterday, the reporter was in Bomei village, Xilu town, Chaoyang district, Shantou city. At the scene of the bloody clash between citizens and police, there were still used tear gas canisters lying on the ground. Two local government trucks were still at the scene. One of them was vandalized, and the other was torched. This showed how fierce the action was on the day before yesterday.
A villager named Chen said that the two sluice gates in Bomei village were constructed last year with 200,000 RMB raised by the villagers. The gates collected the water from a mountain brook and directed the water to irrigate the farm fields. In February this year, the village cadres pointed out that the sluice gates were illegally constructed and asked the farmers to tear them down themselves. But the farmers refused. On the morning of April 11, "various types of police, public security and anti-riot forces and a work group of 1,000 people and several hundred cars including police cars and sedans" appeared and asked the villagers to tear down the sluice gates. So 4,000 to 5,000 villagers formed a human wall to defend the gates. The police attempted twice to enter the gate areas, but the villagers stopped them. The standoff between police and citizens lasted until the afternoon.
At 9am on April 12, the police took advantage of the fact that there were only a few villagers guarding the gates and forcibly tore down the sluice gate closer to the highway. After the villagers found out, they mobilized people to come to the scene. When the villagers got there, the sluice had been torn down. At the time, about 3,000 public security and armed police arrived, and they fired many tear gas shots and used water cannons to disperse the crowd. The scene was quite chaotic and many villagers were injured. The villagers said that six of them were injured, and one thirty-something-year-old female villager was hit in the nose by a tear gas shot and is in critical condition. As for the villagers' claim that one female died after being shot in the head by a tear gas shot, the Xilu town police station and Chaoyang district both declined to confirm. Faced with these angry villagers, the police did not dare to push forward towards the other sluice gate . The two sides faced off against each other for some time, before the police withdrew from the village at dusk.
Yesterday, the reporter observed many public security and undercover officers who were watching the villagers and preventing reporters from gathering news. A Hong Kong newspaper reporter was arrested by undercover officers shortly after entering and then handed over to the External Propaganda Department of Shantou.
The villagers said that five of them were taken away by the police yesterday. The villagers were quite emotional, and they criticized the local government for ignoring the interests of the villagers for wanting to tear down the sluice gates. They said that they would "use blood to protect this sluice gate."
(The Guardian) Police turn water cannon on rural protest in China. Jonathan Watts. April 14, 2006.
Thousands of Chinese villagers have clashed with police over access to irrigation water, leading to at least one death and five injuries, the local media reported yesterday. Amid a rise in violent rural unrest, the authorities used water cannon and tear gas to break up an angry protest in the village of Bomei the southern province of Guangdong.
According to the South China Morning Post, the villagers used homemade weapons, including petrol bombs, to keep more than 1,000 police officers from tearing down a sluice gate they had built in September to divert water to their fields. A woman in her 30s died after she was struck on the head by a tear gas canister, the Ming Pao Daily reported. "There was chaos here," a villager told Associated Press. He said residents were enraged when the local government declared the sluice illegal.
Government officials refused to comment, but residents of a neighbouring village said they had little sympathy for the people of Bomei. "Their sluice gate was rightly prohibited because it has a bad impact on all the villages downstream," said Chen Juan, of Xi village. "I saw them throwing bricks at the police."
The scale of the violence was evident from images broadcast by Hong Kong TV, which showed two burning trucks and a road strewn with bricks.
(Sing Tao via Boxun) 汕头市府发言人就潮阳水闸事件答问 April 14, 2006
[in translation] Q&A with the Shantou Municipal Government Spokesperson on the Chaoyang Sluice Gates Incident. April 14, 2006.
In October last year, some people in the Bomei community, Xilu town, Chaoyang district, Shantou city, Guangdong province built two sluice gates upstream on a brook used to irrigate land. This had a major impact on the productive activities of the people who live both upstream and downstream. On April 12, the local government organization tore down one sluice gate. On April 14, the Shantou municipal government spokesperson addressed questions from the reporter about the incident.
Q: Do the sluice gates built by some people in the Bomei community meet the requirements of the relevant national laws? What kind of impact do the sluice gates have on the productive lives of local people?
A: Last September, certain people in the Bomei community collected more than 8 million RMB from local business people to build an ancestral temple for the Huang family. At the time, they were gullible to believe the claim by a geomancer that the fortunes of Bomei village would be affected unless sluice gates were built. Using the reasons that the village did not have enough water for irrigation and fire-fighting, they invested 180,000 RMB and 250,000 RMB respectively to illegal construct two sluice gates, one at the new bridgehead of the flood control creek upstream of Xilu harbor and the other by the side of the Wanglu bridge under the Chaojie highway. The projects did not have the approval of the local Water Works Department administrative office. In November last year, the Xilu town government ordered the community to halt construction. Instead, the builders not only refused to heed the order, but they rushed to complete the construction. On January 21 this year, the Chaoyang Water Works department issued a written notice to the Bomei community to tear down the gates before February 20 and restore the original conditions. But some of the people in the Bomei community were incited by a small number of people and refused to tear down the gates on the ground that this would ruin the fengshui of Bomei.
The illegal construction of two sluice gates on nationally managed waterways by certain members of the Bomei community violates section 2, article 22 of the "People's Republic of China Anti-Flood Law" and section 2, article 37 of the "People's Republic of China Water Law." The two sluice gates were designed without a permit and built without a permit. One of the sluice gates had a flood control design that was less than one-third of the national minimum anti-flood standard requirement. In the event of a flood, this sluice gate can cause severe waterlogging in Bomei as well as the community upstream. It also seriously impacts the several tens of thousands of people living downstream with respect to their productive activities and safety under flooding. The residents of five villages upstream and downstream are strongly dissatisfied. If this matter is not taken care of quickly in accordance with the law, there may be mass fights between villages.
Q: When the local government discovered certain members of the Bomei community were building the sluice gates on their own, what measures did it take?
A: The Shantou City and Chaoyang District governments paid a great deal of attention to the illegal construction of the sluice gates in the Bomei community. On one hand, the government water works management department made a legal determination of the illegal construction activities in the community; the city and district governments sent more than 200 workers to enter the five villages around Bomei and patiently worked to work on the thinking of the people; they pointed out to the relevant persons the illegal nature of the incident and its potentially severe consequences; they worked hard to persuade the Bomei community to tear down the sluice gates themselves. On the other hand, the local government concentrated on solving the practical difficulties for the people of Bomei. In order to solve the problem of irrigation, the city and district government went through a complete dredging of the local Chaoshui brook that solved the problem of irrigating farmlands. At the same time, they found capital to set up a water supply system in the community so that people have water for their daily use and they have also installed fire hydrants in the community for fire-fighting.
Q: How did the government's organized attempt to tear down the sluice gates go on April 12?
A: After the prior persuasion and educational efforts, most of the people in the Bomei community recognized the illegality of constructing sluice gates without permission as well as the potential serious consequences, and they agreed to the tearing down of the sluice gates. From 9am on April 12, some members of the Bomei community under the guidance of the local government worked with the professional construction company staff workers to tear down the illegal constructed gate number two. During the process, more than one hundred villagers arrived at the scene. They ignored the advice of the work group members and police at the scene, and they used bamboo poles, hovel handles, rocks and acid to attack the police and rush the scene. The public security and militia police carried out their duties to maintain order at the scene and ensure that the demolition work could be conducted smoothly. At around 11pm, the sluice gate was successfully torn down. During the process, eight militia police officers were injured, of which four were hurt by acid burns on their faces and backs, two suffered concussion from head injuries, and two suffered leg burns and broken bones. There was a 31-year-old female villager who suffered a broken nose bone. All of the injured were sent to hospital for treatment.
(Apple Daily) 報 細 汕 頭 衝 突 受 傷 人 數 恐 嚇 變 勸 阻 村 民 怒 斥 官 員 撒 謊. April 16, 2006.
汕頭 市 波 美 村 警 民 衝 突 至 昨 日 已 是 第 四 日 ， 至 少 四 村 民 仍 被 扣 查 ， 而 村 民 也 扣 押 三 名潮 陽 官 員 作 人 質 ， 並 派 人 守 護 水 閘 。 對 於 官 方 前 日 稱 事 件 起 因 是 村 民 迷 信 、 擅 建 水閘 ， 以 及 僅 一 村 民 受 傷 ， 波 美 村 民 怒 斥 官 員 撒 謊 。
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官 方 稱 ， 上 周 三 上 午 九 時 許 ， 政 府 派 人 前 往 清 拆 時 ， 有 一 百 多 名村 民 強 行 衝 擊 拆 閘 現 場 ， 村 民 持 竹 竿 、 鋤 頭 、 石 頭 、 硫 酸 攻 擊 公 安 ， 造 成 九 人 受 傷， 當 中 八 名 是 公 安 人 員 ， 只 有 一 名 三 十 一 歲 女 村 民 受 傷 。
波 美 村 民 昨 日 怒 斥官 方 版 本 有 三 大 謊 言 。 黃 姓 村 民 向 本 報 指 出 ， 波 美 村 原 本 就 是 因 為 灌 溉 和 消 防 用 水需 要 而 興 建 兩 座 水 閘 ， 但 當 局 顛 倒 是 非 ， 指 村 民 因 迷 信 才 建 水 閘 ； 第 二 是 有 關 村 民受 傷 數 字 ， 至 少 有 七 人 受 傷 ， 其 中 一 人 仍 危 殆 ， 僅 和 平 鎮 大 峰 醫 院 就 有 四 名 村 民 留醫 ， 多 間 香 港 傳 媒 曾 前 往 訪 問 了 其 中 三 名 傷 者 ； 第 三 ， 當 局 將 今 次 警 民 衝 突 全 歸 咎於 因 村 民 不 聽 勸 阻 ， 強 行 衝 擊 拆 閘 現 場 ， 但 事 發 前 一 晚 ， 西 臚 鎮 委 書 記 曾 通 過 當 地有 線 電 視 ， 恐 嚇 村 民 反 抗 拆 閘 是 「 拿 雞 蛋 碰 石 頭 」 ， 因 此 激 怒 村 民 ， 令 事 件 更 加 惡化 。
據 悉 ， 被 公 安 拘 捕 的 四名 波 美 村 民 包 括 黃 振 宇 （ 五 十 八 歲 ） 和 黃 麗 玲 （ 十 八 歲 ） 兩 父 女 ， 及 黃 廷 雄 、 黃 粉城 。 其 中 ， 黃 振 宇 和 黃 廷 雄 在 今 年 三 月 十 五 日 曾 到 北 京 ， 向 國 務 院 信 訪 辦 遞 交 村 民請 願 信 ， 二 人 回 到 汕 頭 後 ， 黃 廷 雄 在 三 月 底 就 被 公 安 拘 捕 ， 而 黃 振 宇 則 在 四 月 十 日被 捕 ， 部 份 人 將 被 以 「 涉 嫌 聚 眾 擾 亂 社 會 秩 序 」 治 罪 。
Yesterday was the fourth day of the police-villager confrontation at Bomei village, Shantou City. At least four villagers are still under detention while the villagers are holding three Chaoyang officials as hostages. The villagers are also guarding the sluice gates. As for official claims that the incident was caused by superstitution among the villagers, that the construction of the sluice gates was illegal and that only one villager was injured, the Bomei villagers angrily denounced the officials for lying.
After the police-citizen clash on April 12, things have been mostly quiet in Bomei village. But when the news came around that the government wants to forcibly tear down the sluice gate again, some villagers sounded an alarm by banging on brass gongs for the villagers to rush to defend the sluice gates. That turned out to be a false alarm. The villagers guess that the authorities delayed their action due to heavy rains yesterday.
On the day before yesterday, the Shantou municipal government disclosed to some media for the first time the official version of the police-citizen clash in Bomei village. They claimed that some Bomei villagers believed in a geomancer's claim that "not building the sluice gates will affect the fortune of Bomei village." Last year, the villagers came up with the reasons of not having enough irrigation water and not having water in the event of a fire, and invested 180,000 RMB and 250,000 RMB respectively to build two sluice gates that had not been approved by the local Water Works Department.
The officials claimed that at around 9am on Wednesday, the government sent people to tear down the gates. More than 100 villagers rushed to the scene and attacked the public security officers with bamboo poles, hovels, rocks and acid. There were nine injuries, of which eight were public security officers and only one 31-year-old female villager was injured.
Yesterday, the Bomei villages condemned three big lies in the official version. A villager named Huang told this newspaper that Bomei village wanted to build the two sluice gates for irrigation and fire-fighting, but the authorities are turning things upside down by claiming that the villagers built the gates out of superstitution. Secondly, with respect to the villager casualties, at least seven were injured including one in critical condition. At Dafeng Hospital in Huoping town, there were four villagers staying there. Many Hong Kong media have visited three of the injured. Thirdly, the authorities blamed this police-citizen clash on the villagers not heeding advice and rushing the scene of the demolition of the gates. But on the night before the incident, the Xilu town party committee secretary had gone through local cable television to threaten the villagers that opposing the demolition is like "using an egg to smash a rock." This infuriated the villagers and caused the matter to deteriorate even further.
According to information, the four Bomei villagers arrested by public security included father and daughter Huang Zhenyu (age 58) and Wang Liling (age 18), Wang Tingxiong and Wang Fencheng. Among them, Wang Zhenyu and Wang Tingxiong were in Beijing on March 15 this year to hand in a villagers' petition letter to the State Council's Petition Office. After the two returned to Shantou, Wang Tingxiong was arrested at the end of March by public security and Wang Zhenyu was arrested on April 10. Some of these people will be charged with "suspected of assembly to disrupt social order."
(Radio Free Asia) April 17, 2006.
The Bomei sluice gate case occurred almost a week ago. On Monday afternoon, the village cadre representatives continued the negotiations with Chaoyang district government officials at neighboring Xifeng village which has been acting as the middleman. The two sides finally arrived at an agreement, in which the government promised not to tear down the sluice gates by force and the villagers can tear down the gates themselves once the thought education is completed. At the same time, the government will release all detainees including those who went to petition in Beijing and also promise not to pursue any other persons involved in this incident. In the evening, the two sides signed the document and the Chaoyang district government applied its official seal.
That evening, the vilagers released the three Chaoyang district officials who were detained by the villagers. It was somewhat tense when the villagers brought them back to Xifeng village at 10pm at night.
The reporter telephoned an eyewitness named Huang. Afterwards, he told the reporter: "The government sent three cars to pick them up. We escorted them back in over one hundred motorcycles. It went smoothly. The Xifeng village party secretary and the Chaoyang district officials were there.
Some villagers thought this agreement did not fully state the government's responsibility in this incident and it did not fully resolve the problem of the sluice gates: "Although they said that they were not going to tear them down by force like before, they still intend to tear them down. Actually, the villagers are obviously adamant in disagreeing with tearing down the gates. They have done the thought education work before, but the villagers did not agree! So this is an inexplicable line of reasoning. Also, the medical expenses of the injured villagers are a pbolem. Someone who did not participate got seriously injured by the tear gas. They don't care."
During the defense of the sluice gates, the Bomei villagers dared to confront more than 1,000 fully armed police officers and they even detained officials to demand negotiations with the government. Although the villagers stood firmly, they had been under a great deal of pressure. In the long run, the villagers are hoping to retain the remaining sluice gate. Yet, given the current crisis, the villagers felt that they have accomplished something just by being able to negotiate with the government, delay the demolition and procure the release of the detained villagers. Mr. Huang said, "Villagers opposing the government is like eggs hitting a rock. Everybody knows that it is impossible to impose conditions. The forced detention of the three officials provided plenty of strength. We are grateful to them. There was no choice because the government is forcing the people to rebel, and that was why the villagers had to try this. We are scared. They are government officials and the consequences could be unimaginable. Right now, the rock has moved away."
The villagers expect that the government will fulfill its promise to release the arrested villagers within the next couple of days.