Showdown Looms over Chinese Land Ownership
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Widespread tensions over the issue of land rights appear to be reaching a critical stage in China as NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports.
ANTHONY KUHN: In a farmhouse in Shaanxi province's Weinan region, local doctor Liu Dao Ming(ph) stokes his coal stove and puts the kettle on to make tea. Liu says that he and 70,000 local farmers are solidly behind the December 12th statement to the nation. The statement says that the land they sign contracts to farm actually belongs to them permanently to lease, inherit or to allocate as they see fit.
LIU DAO MING: (Through translator) Our ancestors lived right here on this land. This land belonged to us originally. Nobody can take it away from us.
KUHN: Sixty-nine-year-old Chang Zen Hai(ph) recalls the government giving him a tiny little plot of land to farm.
CHANG ZEN HAI: (Chinese spoken)
KUHN: Villagers here say police have recently arrested several protest organizers. They say they may be charged with incitement to subvert state power, which often results in prison terms of 10 years or more. Dr. Liu says police have been swarming around his village.
DAO MING: (Through translator) The government has consistently tried to suppress this movement. It doesn't allow us to organize or to talk about reclaiming our land. To put it harshly, our local government has imposed a state of wide terror.
KUHN: Hu Xia Wei(ph) is one of the peasant organizers in Jiangsu.
HU XIA WEI: (Chinese spoken)
KUHN: Hu Xingdou, an economist at the Beijing Institute of Technology, says the statement show that Chinese farmers have gotten smarter. He says that they're finally realizing that the government's collectivization of land never had any basis in law, much less, the farmer's own consent.
HU XINGDOU: (Through translator) In the past, farmers just plead to the local government to return their property and allow them to survive. Now, the farmers have realized that this land was theirs to begin with and that local officials have occupied it by force.
KUHN: Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Shaanxi province, China.
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