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In China, Anger Spreads Over Government Land Grabs

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In China, Anger Spreads Over Government Land Grabs

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In China, Anger Spreads Over Government Land Grabs

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

In China, protests have erupted in the southern village of Wukan. Residents there accuse the local government of seizing their land and selling it for profit. The town has been sealed off by police and paramilitary troops. More protests are planned for tomorrow.

NPR's Louisa Lim was one of the few journalists to enter the besieged village. She sent this report.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: It's all been sold, says the motorbike driver, waving at a huge swathe of green fields, as we drive through Wukan. These words are repeated again and again. The villagers here accuse local officials of selling six-and-a-half square miles of land to boost government coffers. They say it happened without compensation for the villagers, who didn't even realize their land had been sold.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: We used to survive on our land, says my driver. Now we have nothing left.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICKEN)

LIM: Chickens are smuggled in for food at the villagers' barricade. Because police have sealed off the village, residents are having to sneak in supplies. The villagers have blocked the roads with tree trunks, and strewn them with broken glass and piles of bricks to throw should the authorities move in. So far, four villagers have been named as criminal suspects. One has died in police custody. Another of those, named Lin Zulian, says they can't back down now.

LIN ZULIAN: (Through translator) I will not regret, even if I die for the interests of the villagers. It is the party's obligation and everybody's obligation to fight corruption. To do so, we must use the weapons provided by the legal system to fight to the end.

LIM: Lin Zulian is not a natural rebel. He joined the Communist Party in 1965, and was a village official for eight years. But he can no longer stand by and watch.

ZULIAN: (Through translator) It has been 20 years of loss, and it is not just the villager's loss. It is besmirching the face of China's Communist Party.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in foreign language)

LIM: At the village square, thousands of people, young and old, gathered to shout slogans, an extraordinary sight in China. They yell, down with corruption, but also long live the Communist Party. They're planning a big march on Wednesday. But these villagers emphasize they don't want to overthrow the Communist Party. They're just against corrupt local officials, and they think the central government can save them.

WANG WENTAO: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: That's what Wang Wentao, who's watching the rally, had been hoping, too. But he was imprisoned twice after trying to petition the central government about his village's plight. He's from Xincuo, six miles away, where a plot of land the size of 37 soccer fields has been requisitioned. Wang says Wukan's tactics wouldn't work in his village.

WENTAO: (Through translator) We couldn't do this, because too many people have been bought off by our local village chief. He won people over by paying them.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: And this is another warning not to follow Wukan's lead. The local television channel is on a constant loop. It accuses Wukan's representatives of organizing riots and disrupting public order.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: In Longguang village, just four miles away, farmers take me to see the land they said was stolen from them 16 years ago. It's a vast plot the size of 55 soccer fields. It's never been built upon. In September, a thousand angry villagers knocked down the surrounding wall to reclaim it. They remember that day with pride and fear.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Through translator) Officials said we knocked the wall down illegally and that we're an illegal organization. Now they want to arrest our village representatives. We are very scared.

LIM: That was a villager who asked for his name to be withheld, for fear of the consequences. The anger at land grabs is not just local. It's national. Official figures show more than 40 million Chinese farmers have lost land, with two million more being dispossessed every year. Here in Wukan, it's come to a head. And the fact that so many villages here have their own grievances could push the authorities towards a hard-line solution. Louisa Lim, NPR News.

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