Q&A about Huaxi/Huankantou
Q: Is it true that there is a total news blackout on the Huaxi/Huankantou incident and the only available information comes from western media?
Here are the principal Western media references:
- Villagers Riot in China, 50 Police Said Injured Benjamin Kam Lin, Reuters. April 11, 2005.
- Chinese farmers riot over crop poisoning Clifford Coonan, Times. April 12, 2005.
- Chinese farmers riot over chemical sites UPI, April 12, 2005.
- Thousands of Chinese Villagers Protest Factory Pollution. Jim Yardley, New York Times. April 13, 2005.
- A bloody revolt in a tiny village challenges the rulers of China Jonathan Watts, The Guardian. April 14, 2005.
- In riot village, the government is on the run Didi Kirsten Tatlow, SCMP via SimonWorld. April 14, 2005.
- Recycled plastic from British homes casts toxic cloud over China Richard Spencer. Telegraph. April 19, 2005.
- The story of the Dongyang riot Manfred Elfstrom, ChinaElections. April 20, 2005.
- Rural citizens fighting back Joe Havely. CNN. May 1, 2005.
- For Chinese, Peasant Revolt Is Rare Victory Edward Cody, Washington Post. June 12, 2005.
Are these the sole purveyors of information on this matter? You must be joking. Most of these reporters are likely to be admitted anywhere near the scene, as Didi Kirsten Tatlow's story shows (note: she did get in there for a short while). So where did these reports come from? The western reporters were mostly relying on Chinese media, especially the Internet. In fact, there was a torrent of information inside China within the first couple of days. The Dongyang portal even ran an online poll about who was at fault -- the government or the citizens?
It is true that some of the original news reports about the incident have been deleted (e.g. the incident report on the website of the local newspaper, Dongyang Daily) and the Dongyang portal was shut down (note: the government received zero votes in the online poll, according to the Google cache of a Sohu BBS post). But through the Baidu/Google cache as well as re-posts on other websites (e.g. the Dongyang Daily interview can be found at Chinese Democratic Justice Party), it is possible to retrieve a tremendous amount of information. My previous post A New Chinese Tourist Mecca is a translation of a broadly circulated eyewitness account of a visit to the village several days after the incident, with plenty of photographs.
In this particular post, I will translate a number of the Chinese-language articles that will explain some of the seemingly incomprehensible aspects. For example, how did thousands of armed police officers get routed by a bunch of peasants? How can that happen? I will note that I am blogging this post from New York City at this time. I have no ground contacts and I am relying solely on Chinese-language reports found on the Internet. I have selected only those reports that have interesting aspects, and I will spare you the rants about the imminent downfall of the Communist Party.
Q. The cause of the protest was the industrial pollution problem. How bad was it?
[Comment: This is a fine example of news reporting. The reporter received some citizen complaints and went down to see for herself. She just let the polluters speak freely and let them hang themselves. Unfortunately, the reporter could not cover the political angle (as in, Why hasn't the government done something already?). A free press is useless unless there is a way for an informed public to apply pressure to bring about change.]
Huaxi: Who devastated you? A report on pollution at the Juxi Industrial Park in Zhejiang. China Chemical Industry News (re-posted at Sohu). October 19, 2004.
Dongyang county in Zhejiang province had the reputation of "Mountain Song, Brook Painting; the center of culture and humanities." This was how the name Huaxi (Brook Painting) came about.
But today, Huaxi is crying and the water is no longer that water.
"Since the establishment of the industrial park in 2001, our lives have been a nightmare. The factories in the park release obnoxious waste gas into the air from dawn to dusk. The gas is dispersed everywhere by the wind and is intolerably disgusting. Wherever the gas goes, the agricultural products die! Untreated waste water is being released directly into the Huaxi brook, which has become a poisoned brook. Never mind the fish. Not even field mussels can survive here." A villager called this reporter to complain.
On September 27, the reporter proceeded to the Juxi Industrial Park next to the Huaxi brook in Dongyang city to see for herself.
Scene 1: The beautiful water became foul-smelling water.
The Juxi Industrial Park is located near the Huaxi Number 5 village near Huashui town in Dongyang city. At the start of 2001, the Huaxi town government used a land-lease arrangement to begin the construction of the industrial park. At the present time, the park occupies about 1,000 hectares of land. There are more than a dozen chemical industrial plants in operation. Since no one was looking after environmental protection, the Huaxi brook has been seriously polluted and it is foul-smelling now.
On the levee of the Huaxi brook, the reporter saw that the brook water is of a thick grayish-yellow color. There is a thin layer of oil slick on top, with a disgusting smell.
As the reporter looked around, all she saw was mud and rocks with nary a water weed in sight.
A waste water pond belonging to a factory was located right next the Huaxi brook. A light yellow stream of water was flowing through a gap directly into the Huaxi brook. At the point where the waste water entered the brook, there is a thick layer of foam.
Looking from north to south, there is a row of many concrete pipe outlets. This is where the dozens of factories release their waste. The villagers said that in the summer of three years ago, the children still come to swim in the brook. Today, humans (and even water buffalos) won't dare to come hear the brook. Anyone who stands in the water will quickly develop an itchy red rash.
A villager told the reporter that the Dongyang Department of Environmental Protection formally notified Huangshan village downstream that the water of Huaxi has been severely polluted and should not be used for agricultural purposes, because it will adversely affect the harvest as well as damage the quality of underground water. From then on, the three hundred hectares of farm land in Huangshan village had to be watered by rainfall and their three pump houses sat idle. Last summer, there were three months of drought and the Huangshan village people, who live right next to the flowing Huaxi brook, had no harvest whatsoever.
Scene 2: The incomprehensible "trustworthy boss".
As the Huaxi people say, there were all sorts of industry waste gases in the air, inside and outside of the Juxi Industrial Park. It is impossible to even tell which factory is emitting what.
"Basically, our factory does not emit any waste gas or waste water, so there is no need to have any environmental protection system," so said Mr. Ye, the general manager of the Dongyang City Chengxin Rubber Product Company.
"But the print dye factory next door say that you drain your industrial waste water directly into the reservoir, seeping into their industrial water pool and causing their print dye products to deteriorate in quality. Is that true?" asked the reporter.
"No such thing." Mr. Ye replied curtly. "What waste water pond? It is our water storage pool."
Then he took the reporter to look at the scene. In a 3-meter-by-3-meter pond, there was a blackish-greenish liquid exuding a foul smell.
"Do you use this kind of water for production?" asked the shocked reporter.
"This pool is too far away from the plant and so it is not in use. That is why it has become a dead water pool. It looks somewhat dirty." Mr. Ye explained. "I have dug a new one over there."
About 10 meters or so further down, there was a newly dug pond, which is not even lined with rocks yet. But the water was milkish-yellowish. Next to the pond was a roughly built shed, with pipes, tubes and containers strewn overall the ground. There were yellowish waste materials everywhere on the ground.
"This is where we wash our containers." Mr. Ye. "After we wash the containers, we can use them again." "Are the residual chemicals in the container directly discharged?" the reporter asked. "I have designed a set of handling equipment, but they are not ready yet," said Mr. Ye.
Scene 3: The Yongshun Print Dye that can't stay clean by itself
"I heard that the waste water next door polluted your industrial water, causing your print dye quality to deteriorate. Can you give me more details?" asked the reporter.
Mr. Zhang, the owner of the Yongshun Print Dye Company, said immediately: "It is like this. Ever since Chengxin Products company started operation last year, the quality of our print dye has been uneven and our customers were complaining. At first, I never imagined that it would have anything to do with the water. One time, we stopped production and the water level in the pool was down. I personally observed streams of black water emerging from the wall of the pool, and then I realized that their waste water pool was right next to our factory wall."
"How was this matter solved?" asked the reporter.
"I contacted him, but he denied everything and demanded that I produce proof. A few days ago, I took some samples for lab tests in Hangzhou. If the lab results confirm the case, I will ask him to compensate us." Mr. Zhang said.
"Did you complain to the city department of environmental protection?"
Mr. Zhang said reluctantly, "We both run our own businesses, so this is not so easy."
The reporter asked to see how he processed his own waste water and he agreed.
There were eight pools of waste water, in which purplish-reddish liquid were churning. The reporter asked which is the pool of dirty water that can be directly released after treatment. Mr. Zhang hesitated for a moment and then said, "I am unable to get it to what you imagine to be clear water."
Scene 4: The burning of solid waste products
On the farthest east side of the industrial park, there is an agricultural chemical company. The gate faces a large plot of unused land on which are some used cans and pipes, and some containers that carried waste liquid. Near the bottom of the hill, there is a tall and thin chimney from which thick black smoke was rising. Underneath was an incinerator which had a roaring fire going. In front of the incinerator is a huge pile of garbage, including packing bags, plastic bottles and foam boards. A worker was shoveling these item into the incinerator.
"This is our incinerator. These items are difficult to handle. We can't leave them around and we can't bury them. In order to protect the environment, we had to burn them at high temperature," said a deputy director in charge of operations. "Our company understands the importance of environmental protection. In order to set up this environmental protection station, we spent more than 20 million yuan."
"When you burn these materials, aren't you polluting the environment?" asked the reporter.
"While I can't say that there is no pollution, it is better than not processing them," he said nervously.
Scene 5: The Huaxi villages who have nowhere to appeal.
The Huaxi villagers have suffered from the ills of pollution from the waste gas and water from the Juxi Industrial Park. Since 2001, they have approached various government departments but they have been disappointed.
Huaxi's wind usually comes from the southeast, so the great "benefactors" of the waste gas from Juxi Industrial Park are the 2,000 plus residents of Huaxi Village Number 5 which is only 200 to 300 meters away, as well as the two thousand plus teachers and students at the Huaxi elementary and junior high school.
A young female teacher said, "It is sad to think that the students must try to learn in this kind of environment. The school has complained numerous times to the city, but the conditions have not been improved." An old peasant pulled the reporter to the side of his farm plot and pointed out the rice plants. He said that he won't get a harvest this season once more, because the rice was just not growing. It was like that last year as well. "I've farmed all my life, but all of a sudden I don't know how to farm anymore at this age. What is this supposed to be?" The old man was about to burst into tears.
The villagers reminded the reporter to accurately report the pollution situation in Huaxi. If this continues any further, the citizens won't know how to live.
The Huaxi brook which used to be as lovely as a painting -- who devastated you?
Q: Did the local media cover the problems related to the pollution?
(Dongyang Daily, December 24 2004)
"We used to grow vegetables to sell, but now we have to buy vegetables to eat." On the afternoon of December 22, Huaxi village peasant Huang Jiacai told this reporter while pointing to the withered green vegetable on the ground.
About two months ago, Huang Jiacai discovered that the vegetables that he was growing on his three hectares of land had signs of withering. At the time, he did not thought too much about it. But a month later, the degree of withering became more severe, as if herbicides had been sprayed on them. Then he got worried. By Huang's estimate, he must have lost 7,000 to 8,000 yuan on his three hectares.
The reporter found out that Huang Jiacai was not the only peasant to have encountered this problem. Among the one hundred plus hectares of land in the Luo Family village, many varieties of vegetables (including celery, Shanghai green, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, etc) all exhibited various degrees of withering.
Near the end of November, the villagers saw that there were large-scale withering among their vegetables and they asked the technologists from the town to inspect. Basically, the technologists precluded the possibility of pests and people being responsible.
This village had the reputation of being "vegetable village" and they have suffered harshly this time. 66-year-old villager Huang Yudi leased 1.1 hectare of land to grow white cabbage, but they all withered. Several days ago, he pulled all the withered vegetables out and threw them on the ground for fertilizer. He told the reporter that while his village used to have a large share of the vegetable market, nobody would buy from them now because they are afraid. Afraid of what? Afraid that the vegetables are "poisoned."
The reporter can see in the fields that various kinds of vegetables are basically rotting from the roots up. A big white cabbage looked alright, but the leaves would fall off when touched. The villagers picked up turnips and celery and showed the reporter where the withering is occurring.
The director of the agricultural technology station in Huaxi tow, Jin Wubiao, had personally visited the scene. He said that it is hard to determine the exact cause. From the degree of withering and the fact that celery and cabbage were both affected, it is unlikely to be caused by pests or humans. The more likely cause is pollution. As to whether it was water or air pollution, Jin said that since some vegetables that do not absorb a lot of water were affected as well, it is more likely to be air pollution.
Yesterday, the reporter understood that the local party committee and government are handling the "damages to the vegetable growers." According to a deputy mayor of Huaxi town, the government has formed a compensation committee. A member of the committee told the reporter that the committee has made a basic assessment that the damages up to November 30 amounted to 149,000 yuan and they are arranging to pay out that amount.
(ChineseNewsNet) According to a local television report, since June last year when the chemical industrial factories moved in, "the air was dirty and smelly, and vegetables won't grow anymore." The residents also complained about the water pollution, as the Southern River flowing through Huaxi town is polluted black and all the fish are dead. According to the report, there were three massive cases of pollution, causing the death of vegetable fields, rice paddies and forests. Through the mediation of the town government, the farmers received total compensation to the amount of 380,000 yuan over three years. Since there are 10,000 residents, each person received about 10 yuan per year for their suffering.
[Comment: It is not enough to compensate the peasants for damages. What about the source of the pollution? If this is not dealt with, the problem will recur.]
Q: What, if any, action had the police taken prior to April 10?
[Chinaelections] On a certain night in 2002, many villagers came to the town government to ask the mayor for a reasonable explanation. But the mayor and other cadres were drinking at a restaurant. The villagers got even more angry, and they hauled him down to the construction area to see for himself, pushing and shoving him. The mayor even lost his shoe. On the next day, more than ten people were arrested.
[Dajiyuan] They have been here several times before to remove the sheds. They usually come around 11pm or midnight, 1am or 2am. If this is a legitimate action, we welcome them to come in broad daylight. Why do they have to come in the middle of the night? Come to think of it, it must be tough on them too. Usually, they came in two to three cars with 10 to 20 people. Since they come at night, we set up a signal so that we set off firecrackers as soon as they are spotted and then everyone rushes over. When the police see that we are many, they leave.
Q: What, if anything, did the government do about the pollution and, more specifically, about the road blocks prior to the April 10 riot?
[InMediaHK] On April 16, 2004 (note: almost one year ago), the People's Government of Zhejiang followed the plan and request by the Ministry of State with respect to various industrial development areas made a public declaration to cancel forthwith all 624 industrial development areas in the entire province. Within Dongyang city alone, more than 10 industrial parks were canceled. According to normal logic, when an industrial park is canceled, the factories will retreat and the land will be returned to the peasants for farming again. The truth is different, since many industrial parks actually expanded, and Juxi Industrial Park in Huaxi town is a typical example.
[ChinaNews.com via Chinese Democracy Justice Party] [Comment: You are warned that ChinaNews.com is the official government view] Concerning the environmental protection problem for the Juxi Industrial Park, the Dongyang City committee and government have paid close attention and made compensation, including setting up a formal system for compensating the loss of agricultural products due to unknown causes. But certain people with ulterior motives used the good intentions of the masses to protect their environment and persuaded some unknowing masses to set up road blocks on the road to the Juxi Industrial Park on March 24. These activities seriously affected social order, productive livelihood and public safety.
Afterwards, the party committee and government of both Dongyang City and Huaxi Town took many actions to avoid escalation. Dongyang City formed a work group led by the principal leaders of the city committee and government. The Dongyang city committee and government studied the problem and published document 2005(26) "Concerning the decision to temporarily cease production at the Juxi Industrial Park to regroup" and document 2005(27) "Ten opinions about improving the work at the Juxi Industrial Park" to demand that production be ceased at the Juxi Industrial Park on April 2. The group also issued the "Guide for compensation at the Juxi Industrial Park".
The Huaxi town party and government also published notices and open letters totaling 39,590 pieces, and they held a total of 135 meetings with the party committees, party members, village representatives, the core elderly people, the core vegetable farmers, of which 5,692 persons attended. They interviewed 4,093 unique families and spoke a total of 9,277 times.
Q: What happened on the day of the clash between citizens and police?
[Comment: This is murky in some of the details, so you will see several conflicting versions. I am in no position to tell you what the truth is. Please be warned that Dajiyuan is a F*L*G publication whereas ChinaNews.com is a government website.]
[Dongyang chat room, via ChineseNewsNet] The incident was first publicized at the chatroom on the Dongyang City portal. Several weeks ago, some elderly persons at the village set up some temporary obstacles to prevent the factories from operating. On April 10, the government sent several thousand people to proceed to the factories to remove the obstacles by force. The villagers fought back. During the chaos, government vehicles rolled over several elderly villagers. This infuriated the villagers and several tens of thousands surrounded the temporary command post of the government and demanded accountability.
It was raining that afternoon, and the government people wore raincoats. The irate villagers began to assault anyone wearing a raincoat. Several policemen were beaten nearly to death. Some government people shed their clothes to flee. The mayor of Dongyang City was present, and the crowd wanted to lynch him. Ambulances did not dare go in to help the injured.
[Apple Daily, via ChineseNewsNet] On March 23, a group of elderly people set up bamboo sheds on the road outside the industrial park in protest. At 3am on April 10, the city government sent in 3,000 people to remove the obstacles. According to a villager by the name of Jia, the government workers used truncheons to attack half a dozen elders, causing blood to flow down their faces. It was a terrifying sight.
Several tens of thousands of villagers from the many villagers of Huaxi town heard the news and rushed over. They sat down on the road to protest and prevented vehicles from entering or leaving the industrial park. Several hundred police officers were summoned to the scene. The officials ignored the safety of the citizens and ordered the cars to proceed ahead, thereby injuring several citizens. At that time, the several tens of thousands of villagers were outraged and surrounded the government command center in the school building, throwing rocks and toppling dozens of police vehicles and about 50 buses. The villagers then broke down the school wall and went in to attack the government workers. Many police officers stripped off their uniforms and escaped into the crowd.
[Reuters] More than 50 police were injured and rushed to hospital, with five listed in critical condition, a doctor told Reuters. About four residents of the village of Huankantou, in Huangtianfan township, were injured.
Police tried to disperse about 200 elderly women, who had kept a 24-hour vigil at sheds and a roadblock outside an industrial park housing about 13 chemical factories for the last two weeks, villagers and local officials said by telephone. Two of the women were killed, two villagers said. "They were run over by police cars," one said. A source with knowledge of the rioting who asked not to be identified said the two had died during arrest. He did not elaborate.
[Dajiyuan] On April 10 around 3am, the first group of police cars arrives. At around 4am to 5am, there were 80 to 100 vehicles, including big buses that can carry 50 plus persons. When the police wanted to dismantle the sheds, the villagers refused. City party secretary Yang Rong ordered the cars to move ahead and several villagers were rolled over. An eyewitness saw an old lady with both legs run over, and her bones were exposed. There are still several elderly persons missing in the village. I don't know the details, because the people in the sheds come from different villages. We do not have an organization. I heard that the families of several elderly persons are looking for them, but I don't have any details.
[Dajiyuan] Many people were rolled over by police cars. Two died at the scene. Another was injured, but was sent to the crematorium anyway.
[Comment: This is the part that I hate -- I mean the idea that the Internet is the medium where anyone can say anything. Question: Did an injured civilian get incinerated alive? If it is true, then it looks like the evil-doers will get away with it because nobody has enough information to obtain justice. If it is false, then there is not a thing that the government can do to clear its name.]
[ChinaNews.com via Chinese Democracy Justice Party] On April 10, the action group for removing illegal obstacles at Juxi Industrial Park in Huaxi town was removing the illegal bamboo sheds. The work was performed by workers from the departments of construction, administration, land management, transportation and women. To ensure their safety, members of the police and militia were there to maintain order.
The workers went to the scene and persuaded those present to let them remove the obstacles and clean up the scene. As they were leaving, someone with ulterior motive spread the rumor: "An elderly woman had died after being rolled over by a car." Certain citizens who did not know the truth surrounded the workers. Some of the criminal elements threw rocks at the workers and their vehicles, and they used poles and machetes to assault them. The criminal elements also toppled over the school wall, and ruined all the desks and chairs as well as books and teaching materials in the classrooms. The school is currently out of operation. In order not to aggravate the situation and to ensure the safety of the public, the workers exercised great self-restraint.
By late afternoon, 36 people had sought treatment at the local hospital. Of these, 33 were government workers, 4 of whom are in serious condition. 3 were injured citizens. There were no deaths.
[Chinese Democracy Justice Party] Our contact person went into the three villages of Huaxi town, and saw no sign of any memorial events for deceased persons, nor any news about any deaths. According to a village cadre in Huaxi Number 4 village, the government is trying to track down a person "who maliciously spread the rumor that an elderly person died after being rolled over by a car." But the cadre said that this rumor spread around rapidly, and it was difficult to find out who was the original source. The villagers are worried that the government is looking for a scapegoat in the person who posted the flyers about someone being killed. The cadre pointed out the flyer poster may not be the same person as the first person "who maliciously spread the rumor."
[MediaChinese] From a telephone call by a village, the worse thing is that the vehicles deliberately rolled over the boies of the old peasant ladies. They deliberately remained stationary over them before rolling back. Two old laides were killed at the scene, and their bodies were throw on the vehicles and taken away. This is not exaggeration. It is the truth. Anyone who sees this message can confirm it immediately: the Huaxi town telephone numbers are 0579-6530XXX, 6531XXX and 6532XXX; just add any three numbers at the back and you will reach someone in the town. This matter is known to everyone in Huawi township.
Q: How did an armed police force of several thousand get routed by an assortment of peasants, including many elderly persons?
[Chinese Democracy Justice Party] According to three persons who are knowledgeable about the armed government forces that were present at Huaxi town, the Dongyang city government assembled the forces through false pretenses. They used the explanations of "mountain climbing competition" and "forest fire drills" to assemble the militia from Huaxi township and neighboring areas. These militiamen have not gone through any kind of training. Most of these so-called militia have dubious qualifications, including outsiders who have been unable to find work here. These people were brought over to the Huaxi Secondary School. Most of them did not have any uniforms, so they were given red armbands that identified them as "law-and-order" officers. Once they got to Huaxi Secondary School, they were informed that there was a riot and their mission was to "quell the riot." Immediately, some of the group demanded to go home. So this was an untrained, undisciplined and unmotivated force that had no intention of attacking the townspeople.
[Dajiyuan] More than 4,000 police came this time, but more than half of them were lied to. They don't have that many local police officers. We captured several of them, and they told us that they were drawn from various other villages to go on a hiking trip. After they got on the bus, they were given police uniforms and told that they were going on a mission in Huaxi. None of them were willing, because they knew why we were out there doing this. All of us are peasants and we understand each other. They were not doing this out of their free will.
Related post: Citizen Reporters On The Huankantou/Huaxi Incident; The Long Story About Huaxi/Huankantou