In the Shadow of China’s Growing Cities: Farmers Resort to Self-Immolation

Throughout rural China, controversial land acquisitions have been taking place since 2009, often without consent of or compensation to the local residents. In an effort to continually expand China’s growing cities, the Party has been forcibly acquiring land in the surrounding rural areas. Here we would call this eminent domain, and most of the victims of this process are pretty angry, but China has allowed things to go to a whole new level.

According to Radio Free Asia: “Nearly half of all rural residents have had land forcibly taken from them, with the number of cases on the rise, according to a 2011 study by the Landesa Rural Development Institute.”  The most important thing to understand about rural China is that land is everything. Land is where you live, how you make a living, feed your family, and is all that you have left at the end of your life to pass down to the next generation. Farmers in China have for the most part always been farmers. They are for the most part poorly educated and lack other useful job skills. The old system functioned under the logic that the farmers (peasants in older parlance) were the ideal citizens, pure examples of the way we should model ourselves. There are plenty of images of city kids getting sent out to the country during the Mao days for “re-education.” Times have changed; now cities are the center of Party pride, and popular logic argues that they are the hope and future of China. For people who have never experienced urban life, they are grossly unprepared for the changes and do not welcome the city coming to them.

An image from a time when China stated the countryside was the ideal. What will the new propaganda posters look like?

An image from a time when China stated the countryside was the ideal. What will the new propaganda posters look like?

Farmers, desperate to preserve their way of life and safeguard their families’ future, have turned to self-immolation as a last resort effort to stave off the forcible change. They have tried to work within the system, taking legal action and hearing little in return. They have tried traditional protest methods, but the police often stop the protests before they can even get underway by blocking access to government buildings, arresting and even beating some protestors. These farmers have nothing left to do but take extreme measures. This matter is ugly enough that the state-sponsored Xinhua News agency remains too ashamed to report on it. They are hoping to cover up the plight of the farmers and continue with their unfair land acquisition projects. Family members of the burn victims are tweeting about government abuse, but find their tweets quickly shut down. Party members across rural China are communicating with Beijing in an effort to belittle the farmers’ struggle and denounce their tactics. When contacted, local Party members do not deny that residents have resorted to self-immolation or that these events are connected to the land acquisitions, but simply say it’s the farmers fault for getting over excited and letting their emotions get the best of them.

Government agents critical of the farmers say that they are trying to squeeze the government for enough money to fund generations, and feel this is ridiculous. But in the eyes of the farmers, it makes perfect sense: their land would house and feed their families for generations; loss of their land would house and feed no one, so why shouldn’t they fight to keep their land? The question Party members should be asking themselves is, why have protests of the land acquisitions gone this extreme? The peoples’ concerns need to be heard and addressed before anyone else is killed or hurt through self-immolation protests.
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Image source: China Expat