From Al Jazeera
When the world first heard of Farmer Yang, it was a tale a gruff but resourceful rural McGuyver who had begun protecting his land from hungry developers with a homemade artillery – fireworks and maybe a molotov cocktail or two (reports varied). The next time we heard about him, it was through the increasingly depressing tweets of Al Jazeera correspondent Melissa K Chan. And now we know exactly what happened.
What once was a David v. Goliath story has now turned into… well, the same one you seem to hear all over China, at least until the reports get quashed. While police may have chased away thugs developers had hired to take Farmer Yang off the land the first time he initiated his counter-attack, they quickly turned on him as media attention escalated.
Melissa K Chan’s full report is on her blog and is well worth a read, but here’s a summary of the timeline of events:
- Al Jazeera goes to interview Yang Youde (Farmer Yang) at his place in Wuhan. A security detail follows and, soon after the reporters get back, officials are waiting to talk to them.
- Officials say the original story, which appeared in the Changjiang Times was incorrect, since the reporter did not ask for the official’s side of the story. They have since killed the “fraudulent story.” They showed papers saying the local government stands to earn $95 million by developing Yang Youde’s land – but then refused to let Al Jazeera make a copy of those reports.
- Officials add that nobody owns land in China and it is all the property of the government’s. Chan wryly interjects that 10% of China’s GDP is from the real estate market. I’d like to note for those not familiar with Chinese property law, while the assertion that “the state owns the land” is technically true, there are specific use rights for farmers and their ilk. Most important for this story is the rule that “Once land use contracts are granted, the local authorities are prohibited from changing the terms of the land contract through reapportionment or other measures,” which is what Farmer Yang was ostensibly fighting for. More on China’s property law from the excellent China Law Blog.
- Officials hold a press conference. Local media show up but ask no questions. Answers to Al Jazeera questions only bring up more questions – for instance, when asked about Farmer Yang’s assertion that he had been thrown into a “black jail” for 51 days, they replied he’d only gone to “political education classes, a requirement of all farmers in the district.”
- A few days after the reporting trip, Farmer Yang calls to say people have been coming to harass him ever since Al Jazeera left. Some of the harassment was detailed in our post on Melissa K Chan’s tweets.
- Right before the Al Jazeera report aired, Yang called again to say that unidentified men had beaten his brother’s face with bricks. It was a case of mistaken identity – they thought the brother was Yang himself. Yang’s brother is now blind in one eye.
People who’ve lived in China, or read stories about China regularly, will probably not be surprised by the turn this tale took – heck, even families in Shanghai, the richest city in the country, can get forcibly moved. And so it’s not shocking that, despite the property laws protecting farmer land rights and foreign journalist reporting protections, something like this can happen. But it still is outrageous.