The Shengyou Reporter's Field Notes
For a while, the unfolding of 'unscheduled' public events appear to follow a set pattern. There are three obvious stages:
That had been the typical mode of operation for some time and it is tantalizing to learn as much as possible from the brief opening before the gates close. But recently, the journalists in the field have struck back with a Stage 4. The first time that happened was at the Shalan flash flood. It was true that when the Nanfang Weekend reporter filed his latest report The Shalan Flash Flood - Part 3, his supervisor told him with disappointment that it had been squashed. No matter, for the reporter made sure that a copy of that report appeared on the Internet where it was propagated all over. Furthermore, the reporter went ahead and published his field notes (see The Shalan Flash Flood - Part 4) on the Internet. These field notes are not restricted by mainstream journalism standards, and he felt free to discuss what he could or could not report, and even listed conjectures that he was unable to confirm.
Was that an exception? The Beijing News reporter working on the Shengyou incident was also shut down when all coverage was banned even though he getting close to the culprits. So he has also posted his field notes on the Internet. This reporter enumerated his dealings with government officials during his work, and this is quite illuminating.
One should not count on this state of things to last too long. It will be a matter of time before all reporters receive the order that no field notes shall be published to the outside. Meanwhile, this is a brief opening in the history of Chinese media.
Please be mindful that we don't even see these types of field notes in the mainstream media in the western world. Wouldn't you want to know just how 'journalists' such as Judith Miller (NYT), Elizabeth Bumiller (NYT) and Sue Schmidt (WaPo) write their reports? You may then understand how an 'exclusive' is obtained on a piece of politically motivated propaganda. Or, from the other extreme, how do Seymour Hersh (New Yorker) and Mark Danner (New York Review of Books) get their information?
Of course, there is the hanging question of how Stage 3 came about. Why couldn't the in-depth and very responsible coverage be allowed to continue? To some extent, one can blame the unbridled Internet in which anyone can say anything anonymously. In the case of the Huaxi/Huankantou riot (see Q&A about Huaxi/Huankantou), someone out there immediately floated rumors that the government authorities had killed two elderly persons and injured others who were taken to the crematorium and incinerated alive. No one has been able to name any deceased person there and we can take that to be malicious rumor mongering. In the case of the Shalan flash flood, someone out there floated rumors that 280 bodies of schoolchildren had already been recovered (see The Shalan Flash Flood - Part 4) compared to the final government figure of 117 deaths overall. The government figure is more credible because no one has been able to substantiate the alternative claims (as in naming any of the unaccounted-for dead people). Do you think the government should step in at that point and put a stop to these calumnies? Or should it sit back and let the lies swirl in the belief that the people's eyes are bright and clear as snow?
Here is the translation of the Beijing News' reporter's field notes (via New Century Net)
[translation] June 20, 2005
(1) At the scene in Shengyou Village
At 2pm on June 12, when I crossed the two-meter wide ditch to step on the unused plot of land, I saw patches of blood on the ground, bloodied clothing, hook knives; fire extinguishers, as well as handmade 'guns' and 'bullets' that I don't know how to describe. I cannot imagine what happened here in the early morning yesterday. To be precise, I was still unwilling to use what I saw before me to validate what people told me about the assault.
But I had already sensed that this was a complicated case.
On the plot of unused land of around 20,000 square meters, there were about 100 basements on top of which were tents set up with plastic sheets and wooden planks inside lined with blankets and cooking stoves.
Further away, several dozen peasants were squatting or sitting underneath a few big tents. There were women, old men and children. I saw that they were staring at me, full of wariness and contempt.
To my surprise, when I explained my purpose, nobody was willing to talk to me.
They said, "There were have been one group after another of reporters. They came after the fight. We repeated again and again, until our lips were worn out. But we have not seen f*rt being published. Not a word."
They were emotional. I thought that I needed to build their trust up again. "Could you please repeat it for me one last time? Just move your lips once more. If I can't report it, then you should not bother afterwards."
At that moment, two of the women began to cry. They said, "Comrade, we feel bad inside. We have suffered deaths and injuries amongst our families." I said, "I understand you. When I see something like this, I feel so sad."
So the locals gathered around me and narrated the assault that happened around 430am on the morning of June 11.
From what they told me, I learned that the land had been requisitioned by the Dingzhou Power Plant. But the villagers thought that the compensation price was too low and the requisition process lacked transparency. After several unsuccessful petitions, the villagers decided to construct shacks on the ground to prevent construction. There have been many conflicts with the builders and the officials. On June 11, about 300 unidentified persons launched an assault against them.
The villagers said that they were asleep at 430am. Suddenly, they heard the sound of footsteps and shouting. When they got up to look, they saw several hundred young men wearing combat camouflages and safety helmets charging towards them. The intruders killed one person first with a gunshot. The others then began slashing away with hook knives that were two to three meters long. The villagers used hovels and spades to fight back. But since their weapons were shorter, they said that they could only run away while the pursuers chased them and continued to hack at them.
It took more than three hours for me to grasp the situation. Then a villager pulled me aside and told me, "There was a compact disc containing a video recording of the incident that day. It has not been given to anyone else before. But I trust you and I will give you a copy." Then the villager said, "The assault continued for about an hour. The video camera person was only able to record three minutes before being discovered. The intruders broke his arm and stabbed him a few times on the buttocks. Two young villagers carried away for over two kilometers and saved him and the video."
I took the compact disc. Then I went to the basement in which Zhu Xiaorui was detained. Previously, at 230am on April 21, about 20 people assaulted the villagers. Zhu Xiaorui was one of them, but he was caught and detained by the villagers.
According to Zhu, he was a service worker in Beijing. A person named Qiangzi asked him to come along. He only knew a few of those people, who were all thugs.
I called the number that he gave me for his home in Anhui. A woman said that she was a relative of the Zhu family. I said that I was Zhu Xiaorui's friend and I needed to contact him on a matter of urgency. She then admitted that she was Zhu Xiaorui's mother and told me to let him know that he should call home.
I handed the telephone over to Zhu Xiaorui, but he did not want to speak to his mother. He told me to ask her to look after herself.
At that moment, a villager told me that my rented vehicle has been surrounded by several other cars. The driver was stupefied and looked at me anxiously. I took out 50 yuan, gave it to the driver and told him to look out for himself.
At about this time, about 20 or so officials and police officers approached the car. I put on a grass hat given to me by a villager, I touched the compact disc that I kept next to my chest and I got on a villager's motorbike and we left through a country lane.
On the way, I called my supervisor to let him know what had happened.
(2) "Arrested" at the hospital
At around 6pm, I arrived in Dingzhou City and spoke briefly to my informant next to the municipal building. Then I hurried over to the Dingzhou Peoples' Hospital.
On the eighth floor at the hospital, I saw a lot of Shengyou villagers who were there to look after their injured relatives. But they did not trust me. I showed them my press pass. They looked at it many times, and then they called people in the village. Just when they wanted to bring me into the sick room, a 50-ish man came over and took the village leader aside and they spoke. At the time, I was quite nervous and I wanted to finish the interview as quickly as possible so that I can go to Baoding and send out my article.
Five minutes later, the villager came back and took me towards the sick room. But at that moment, about four to five plainclothesmen surrounded me and roared, "Stand still! What are you doing here? Show me your identification!"
I said that I was a reporter. "And who are you? Show me your identification."
One man pointed at me and shouted, "Behave yourself. Show me your identification!"
I said, "Please identify yourselves."
At that time, one of them took out his police identification card. So I took out my press card and showed it to them. They asked me how many people came with me. I said that I was alone. They said that they have received information that three to four fake reporters have come here. They have been looking for them all over, and they have finally found one.
I said, "Police officer, you are wrong. If you are looking for fake reporters, you better keep looking. I have my press cad. I have been sent by my office to gather news."
One policeman was making a telephone call, while another wanted to haul me down to the police station. At that moment, several villagers stood in front of me, "You cannot take him away!" I made use of that time to call my supervisor quickly and tell him what was happening.
We were stuck in the corridor like that.
I sneaked into the sick room, and saw several villagers receiving fluid on their beds. One person had his guts torn open and someone else had a cast on their feet. A villager said that he saw his relative's intestines falling out and he could see the lungs move as he breathed.
Later, a police officer 'invited' me to leave the sick room. I said that there was no point of continuing the stalemate and I was willing to go with them. A few villagers insisted on coming with me. I told them that they did not need to go because it was more important for them to look after the injured people. Finally, a few people insisted and went with me to the Dingzhou police station.
At the police station, the police officers would neither take my statement nor let me go. They said that they had informed the police chief.
After about half an hour, I asked the police officers again, "May I go now?" They said no because the police chief was contacting the propaganda department.
After a while, still nobody came. I was getting impatient. A villager came over to apologize and said, "We are sorry." I didn't know what to say. I just wanted to leave quickly and send out my report. I told the police officer that I had the telephone number of the propaganda department director named Ren. I called the number, and Ren said that he would come over immediately.
When Ren arrived, he looked at me and said, "Oh, I remember. You were the reporter who gathered the news on the new plans for the administrative district."
Ren gave me a review of news reporting rules, and then said that Baoding treats this incident seriously and has formed a special investigation group led by the political law committee secretary. Unless the special group agrees, no reporting is permitted. I said, "Director Ren, I am only responsible for gathering the news. It is up to my supervisor to decide whether or not to report anything."
And then I asked, "May I leave now?" Ren said, "You can leave with me. I'll take you to dinner."
When I got on Ren's personal car, I insisted on not dining. I let the chauffeur drive Ren back to this party committee meeting at the Municipal Building and then drop me off at the train station.
After I bought the train ticket, I saw that there were two police cars in the train station plaza and there were people watching me. So I entered the station ahead of time.
I went through the underground passageway and got out on the other side. I called my supervisor again. He said, "That informant saw you being taken away by the police. He called the newspaper office several times. You should watch your own safety."
About five minutes later, a police car entered the station. I stood behind a small building and observed. Two police officers got out of the car and went to the ticket inspection gate and began to check identifications.
To tell the truth, I was quite worried because I did not want to delay the report. Then I comforted myself, "Maybe this is just a coincidence. The police car did not come for me." But inside, I was hoping that the train would arrive soon.
At 810pm, the train entered the station. I got on the train quickly by darting out from behind the small house. On the train, I wrote a first draft for my report. Because my laptop was not working, I called many classmates and friends in Baoding to make sure that someone can get me a Windows 2000 or higher computer with a USB connector, so that I can send out the articles and the photographs.
(3) Sending out the article from Baoding
At 920pm, I arrived at the home of my friend A in Baoding. She was quite surprised to see me in my well-worn grass hat. On her computer, I watched the 3-minute video clip of the June 11 assault on the compact disc.
The people wearing safety helmets and camouflage clothing and wielding hook knives were fighting with the peasants. From the video, these people were slashing at the basements and tents. There were shouts and there were gunshots. My friend said that it looked like a scene from an old warlord-era movie.
I really could not believe such a scene could occur in real life.
Then, I let another friend help me make the screen captures.
At around 1030pm, a stranger called my mobile phone and asked me if there was anyone with me. I asked him who he was, but he did not say. Then he asked me where I was, and then he hung up. I turned off my mobile phone.
But I got worried. I called my supervisor again, and he said, "You will be safe as soon as you send the article and the pictures over."
At 11pm, I copied the article and the photographs through the USB cable to the storage device. I changed my clothes and I went with my friend B to the place of my friend D where my friend C was already waiting. The reason why so many people were involved was that if I did not have them to handle the complicated process, I would never be able to file the report. Of course, my friends were worried when they were with me. For this, I am grateful to them.
At around midnight, the article and the photos had reached Beijing. I was happy. At that moment, I realized that my clothes were soaking wet in sweat.
On the way seeing a friend home, I saw an old couple closing their snack shop on the nearly deserted road. Then I remembered that I had not eaten dinner yet. The old lady said that they only two egg waffles left. My friend B bought both. I opened my mouth and I gobbled one down immediately, even though this one was three times as big as the ones in Beijing. I was really starving at the time.
On the way, my friend asked me what I took so much trouble and risk. "How much money did I earn?" I did not know how to respond. I could only tell her from my heart that I really was not thinking about how much money I would make. I only want to report this incident and let people know that such a thing happened there.
Actually, I was asking myself inside -- if I was told beforehand how much money I would make after going through all this, would I still come?
When I got back to my friend B's place, I was still scared and worried, and I did not fall asleep until a couple of hours later.
(4) "Getting scolded" and the dismissal of the Dingzhou Party Secretary
I woke up the next morning at 930am. I turned on my mobile phone.
There was a call from the Dingzhou City Propaganda Department director Ren. He gave me a thorough scolding, and said that I was the reporter with the least professional ethics. As a result of my report, all the criminals have fled. He said that I caused the base-level workers a great deal of trouble and created bad influence. How can I face the Party? How can I face the People?
I asked this Ren person, "Was the safety and unity in Dingzhou destroyed by my report or by the June 11 assault incident? If I did not report this, would all the criminals be caught? Previously, the villagers had detained an attacker for 50 days and no public security officer ever went there to interrogate? Whether I can face the Party or the People is something for the Party and the People to decide."
The Ren person scolded me for being an ingrate and said that he should have let the public security office hold me for three days. I said, "On what grounds could they hold me for three days?" He did not reply. I did not want to waste any more time with him, so I hung up the phone.
On that day, many reporters including Wang Keqin, Nanfang Weekend's Sun Yafei, and others from CCTV, Sanlian and Xinmin Weekly contacted me and they all said that wanted to report on this incident.
At 4pm in the afternoon, the Dingzhou informant came to Baoding and told me that the Dingzhou authorities wanted me to give them the compact disc. In Baoding, he also gave me two more compact discs, containing the 2004 press conference given by the Dingzhou Party Committee and Government and the Dingzhou television report on the Shengyou Village incident. The videos showed that there was a longstanding and twisting confrontation between Shengyou Village residents and the local government, including many violent episodes.
At 7pm in the evening, near the Baoding Hotel, I handed copies of the compact disc to Nanfang Weekend's Sun Yafei and their team hurried over to Dingzhou that evening.
Afterwards, I filed a follow-up report from an Internet bar.
At around 11pm, Wang Keqin send me a SMS and said that he was outside Shengyou Village. There were police officers at the entrance, and he could not get in. He wanted me to introduce some villagers to him to get him inside.
This showed me the professionalism of the number one exposť reporter in China. So I immediately forwarded him the telephone numbers of my informant and several villagers.
At around midnight, I got the news that the Dingzhou Party Secretary and the Mayor have been dismissed. I sent a report to my supervisor immediately.
Afterwards, I called all my contacts (and that means waking up their families) to confirm this information. They all said that they saw this news item on the 10pm television news on Dingzhou Television. The Hebei Province Baoding City Party Committee had relieved the Dingzhou City Party Secretary and Mayor of their jobs, and the new mayor had gone to the hospital to visit the injured villagers.
That was quite surprising to us, because we did not think the job dismissals would occur so rapidly.
(5) The video was sent to the Central and National Offices, and then I went to Dingzhou
The other thing was that on June 13, the Xinhua Internal Reference Department and the Xinhua Hebei office's Ma Jiqian contacted me separately. Xinhua arranged for Ma Jiqian to get the video tape for the Central and National Offices.
By prior arrangement, in the early morning of June 14, I made a copy of the video. At 930am, Ma came to Baoding and I handed the copy to him without saying much. He went north towards Beijing while I went south towards Dingzhou.
I arrived in Dingzhou around noon, and I hired an unmarked black-colored car towards Shengyou Village. On the way, there were policemen everywhere. My driver told me not to worry, "If I have the guts to drive down here, I guarantee that I will get you there." He was stopped several times along the way, but I just napped.
When we got close to Shengyou Village, I got out of the car. There were police cars at every intersection. I went through a path in the maize fields and entered the village. When the villagers saw me, they came over to shake my hand. Many people praised me for doing so much for the 2,000 villagers. I said, "You must trust your new Party Secretary and Mayor even more to take care of everything."
At the home of a villager, they gave me more emails and government documents, and I saw villagers such as Xing Huiqiang who was previously arrested and sentenced to jail.
The villagers said that they don't trust the government, and they asked me what they should do.
I said, "You ought to release Zhu Xiaorui first. Then you should avoid taking extreme actions. You can discuss your demands with the government." They said that they used to think that way too, but the masses got too emotional. It was not a matter of the fifty plus casualties from this assault, but because the past bitterness was too deep.
On June 14, the newly appointed city party secretary Liu Baoling brought four groups of officials to meet the villagers in the village. One official said something, and the relatives of the dead villagers went up and slapped the official. The villagers said, "We are going to slap them no matter who is coming."
The villagers said, "We don't have much culture or knowledge, but we know right from wrong." Many villagers mentioned that when the original city party secretary Huo Feng came to visit the village, the villagers got down on their knees to beg him. But Huo Feng said, "Don't give me this crap! I have seen enough of this already." Afterwards, the villagers start to scold this party secretary. The villagers say that they are not asking for much, but sometimes it is the attitude that riles them.
After finishing my work in the village but before returning to Dingzhou, the villagers found out that I wanted to interview the new city party secretary Liu Baoling. They wanted me to tell the new secretary that they trust him.
At Baoding City, I contacted Liu Baoling and the deputy secretary. Since the two were quite busy, they wanted me to contact the Propaganda Department director Ren to make the arrangements.
So I called Ren's number again. He scolded me one more time and said that he should not have rescued me. We argued for a while, and my request for the interview was obviously rejected. He said that the Beijing News was an unprincipled street rag and wanted to complain to my supervisor. I gave him the telephone number of my supervisor.
Afterwards, according to my supervisor, he had an argument with Ren. Ren told my supervisor that I pretended to be the reporter for Baoding Daily and that was why I was arrested. At the same time, Nanfeng Weekend's Sun Yafei also sent me a SMS that when her request for an interview was rejected, Ren told her that I pretended to be the Baoding Daily reporter at the hospital. Another colleague told me that Ren told every reporter that I pretended to be the Baoding Daily reporter and that I was the most unethical reporter.
I got mad. I have been a reporter for some years, and I don't feel any need to pretend to be with any other media. I think that a good journalist must be a good person first and foremost, and I was thoroughly insulted.
I immediately called up Ren and asked, "When did I pretend to be the Baoding Daily reporter? Why are you spreading rumors about me?" Ren ignored my questions and said that I reported against the regulations. Then he hung up. Later, I got through to Liu Baoling and he said that it was possibly a misunderstanding with Ren. He then thanked me for my report, and he said that I should report whatever I want to report.
On the same day, the Xinhua Internet Reference Department called to say that they have received the video.
At 11pm that evening, Ma Jiqian sent a message to say that he has returned to Zhejiazhuang and that the video had arrived at the Central and National Offices. The central government leadership has issued directives on this case, but he could not tell me what they were under the regulations.
(6) The clues expand but the case was closed
June 15 was the fifth day after the June 11 assault in Dingzhou, and the third day of our reporting.
On this day, I cleaned up the Shengyou incident with the preceding land requisition matters. Upon the instruction of my supervisor, I put aside the Dingzhou assault case for the moment, and proceeded to Henan to work on the Lu Debin case.
Editor Wang Qin sent a SMS to say, "It's a pity." But due to the ban on the Henan case, I could not go there. So I decided to wait for another couple of days in Hebei to see what was going on. I also wanted to investigate just who the perpetrators were.
On June 16, through further interviewing, I was able to obtain the license plate numbers of one bus and one sedan which carried the attackers. Both had Baoding plates.
From the Internet, I found out that the sedan had more than 20 violations in the last two years, all within Baoding City. There were no violations for the bus. In the morning, I went to the Baoding Motor Vehicle Department, but I could not obtain any information on those two vehicles. When I exited the office, I saw many rental cars outside. I figured that the rental cars chauffeurs hang around outside this office and they must know the people in there.
So, after some effort and paying a certain price, a rental car chauffeur was able to give me some brief information about the two vehicles.
It was like treasure to me.
In the afternoon, I went to visit the owner of the bus, which is the Number Five Company of the Baoding Transport Group. I walked through the parking lot but I did not see the bus. I asked the information department and found out that the Number Five and Number Nine companies used to be one company but split up in 2000. That bus was registered in 1999.
So I raced over to the Number Nine Company.
I saw the 48-seat luxury bus immediately. A person there said that they rented out five buses on that day.
Afterwards, I visited that Number Nine Company headquarters and the depot and made another breakthrough.
On the morning of June 17, I went to the Baoding Vehicle South Station and learned that a young man named Zhao had attempted to rent vehicles. The station referred Zhao to Number Nine Company. According to the information, Zhao was involved with a certain hotel and repair shop in Baoding.
Concerning the sedan, I also made many inquiries. I was trying to find out the relationship between the power plant construction company and the sedan when the ban came down to stop my investigation.
Afterwards, I sent a SMS to Wang Keqin to check his progress. He replied in a message of only four words "Be sad together silently (共同默哀)". The next day, Wang sent me another SMS: "Brother, you saved the villagers of Shengyou. You did well. I offer to take you out of dinner when you are free. Old Wang."
I am grateful for the encouragement from old Wang. He has exaggerated my good intentions. I even think that he is under a misunderstanding, because so far I feel that I only objectively reported this incident. As for saving the villagers of Shengyou village, that will be up to the government and the villagers themselves.
On June 18, Xinhua reported that a breakthrough has been achieved in the Shengyou assault case. The construction sub-contractor had planned the assault.
Our report of the Shengyou Village incident is over. We wrote five reports. We hope that the Shengyou Village incident will be resolved soon.
Anonymous reporter. June 19, 2005. Hebei.
(Phoenix Weekly via Yannan BBS) Field notes by Zeng Zimo (曾子墨), a Phoenix TV reporter.
Xinluo is the county seat of Dingzhou. It is about 40 minutes away from Shengyou Village. Of the 48 injured villagers of Shengyou, more than thirty are presented staying at Xinluo People's Hospital undergoing treatment.
In order to elude the "special guards" from the Dingzhou government and police department posted at the hospital, we chose to conduct our interviews during lunch hour. My cameraman keep the DV camera in a paper bag. We had made prior arrangement with a villager who agreed to make the contacts for us and we followed him into the hospital, staying 5 to 6 meters behind him.
In a common double room, we met two injured villagers, one male and one female.
The male laid on the bed with multiple fractures of the legs and shoulders. More than half of his body was wrapped beneath white bandage from which blood seeped through. Even today, this young and robust man was scared when he recounted the assault: "I held my head with my hands. They kept beating me as I run. When I went into the ditch, I heard them yell, 'Burn him to death! Burn him to death! We won't let a single one of them get away!" Then the attackers set fire to the plastic sheets and wheat straws.
"I was scared. It was horrible. I thought I would surely die." At that moment, he felt the terror of death.
The attackers did not spare the elderly, women or youth. On the other bed was an old lady in her 70's. Her eye had been badly damaged. She has been placed on intravenous feeding, and both her legs were beaten blackish-purple. "I don't dare to seek treatment at the Dingzhou hospital. It is not safe at Dingzhou. I am more at ease in Xinluo."
The woman's concerns were not unfounded. According to the villagers, they tried to called the emergency 120 service in Dingzhou but the ambulances did not come and many injured villagers could not receive immediate treatment. After many calls from the villagers, Dingzhou 120 finally sent two ambulances which were obviously not enough for the more than 100 injured persons. Furthermore, the Shengyou Village residents had called the Dingzhou police at 5am on June 11. Under normal circumstances, it takes only 30 minutes to get there. But the police took a full five hours to show up at the scene at 10am.
The clear contrast was that Xinluo County dispatched more than 20 ambulances and made multiple trips to actively offer assistance, and they also sent many police officers to establish order within the Xinluo zone.
In the face of such a large-scale violent incident, why did the Dingzhou emergency service and the police arrive so late? This is the biggest doubt on the minds of the villagers, and we have no obvious explanation.
In order to enter the Shengyou Village Party Committee courtyard, a villager led us to take a byway. From afar, we saw that there was a van parked at the entrance to the village and some cadre-looking persons were squatting there and playing cards. Obviously, these people had special assignments.
There were many different types of vehicles parked in front of the village party office. There is a large sign with the word Injustice (冤) in black on white background. In the courtyard, there were six mourning altars for the dead villagers lined with flower wreaths. The banner across the center read: "In order to carry out the land policy of the central government and to protect the interests of the villagers, they gave up their precious lives." The relatives of the deceased were dressed in mourning colors and they waited beside the corpses that they have managed to take back. The entire courtyard was submerged in an atmosphere of sorrow and numbness.
The villagers said that the village cadres have disappeared since the incident: "They are not cadres from our village. We hadn't elected them!" The office of the village cadres had been turned into a mortuary, with flies everywhere inside.
The greatest wish for the villagers is to catch the blackhand behind everything. Although the authorities have arrested 22 suspects including the person in charge of the sub-contracting work to build the coal burning plant, the villagers are skeptical. Does the boss of a work team have the guts to organize several hundred trained people to openly engage in this type of violent assault?
Before we departed, we expected that we could encounter obstacles in news gathering in Dingzhou. So we made sure that we took some random films. In the event that we were stopped, we could at least offer one reel of tape. At just past 3pm, when we were ready to leave Dingzhou, our worst fear was realized at the expressway tollgate.
First of all, the traffic police intercepted our car and asked the driver to produce his driver's license and registration. Then we were asked to stop and get out of our car because we had been reported to engage in illegal behavior. As we were trying to reason with the traffic police, two officials in civilian clothes got out a black sedan and arrogantly and brashly ordered the traffic police: "Don't let a single one leave! Anyone who lets someone goes will be held responsible!"
Very quickly, more government vehicles gathered at the expressway entrance. Within half a hour, more than 20 government officials and police officers had arrived at the scene and surrounded our vehicle. Our camera crew of three were asked to produce identification and then we were determined to be engaging in illegal news gathering. The local officials and police took the camera person and the driver aside separately by the road and interrogated them. During that time, no matter whether the reporter tried to walk over to speak to either the photographer or the cameraperson, the police would block her and tell her: "It is not your turn to speak."
After more than one hour of interrogation on the side of the expressway, we were 'invited' without any choice to go back to the Dingzhou City Committee office "to assist in further interrogation." Without our consent, one police officer attempted to get into our car to "escort" us back to the Dingzhou City Committee office. After we told him several times that "This is a private vehicle that the police has no right to enter," he finally gave up.
On the way to the City Committee office, our team agreed upon a common set of statements. Due to the lack of time, we could not hide anything inside the car. So the reporter took one reel of videotape on her person, and hoped that they wouldn't dare to search a female; another reel was placed in her coat pocket; and the third reel as well as the compact disc from the villager were placed in the reporter's handbag.
In the conference room at the City Committee office, the local officials made all sorts of demands that seemed unreasonable to us. They asked us to hand over all our video information; they searched our vehicle while we were not present; they forbade us to use our mobile phones to call or send SMS and they even wanted to take away our mobile phones; then they wanted us to be interrogated separately in three different rooms. Specifically, they wanted me to go by myself "to the dormitory of a female official for inspection." Against these demands, we countered that all these requests infringed upon our human rights including our privacy. If they want to restrict our freedom, then they will have to tell us exactly which laws of the People's Republic of China allowed them to do so. Alternately, they could produce search warrants and arrest warrants, without which we would not cooperate.
Finally, we reach this compromise. We handed over the video tape that we prepared beforehand. The camera person was interrogated in one room, while the reporter and the driver were interrogated in another room. We agreed that the police could inpect our mobile phones, our cameras and our USB storage devices. We also let them inspect everything in our vehicle in our presence. Maybe because they didn't find anything or maybe there were other reasons, we were glad that the three video tapes and the compact disc from the villagers were preserved.
By the time that we were allowed to leave the Dingzhou City Committee's Office, the final words from the local officials to us were: "If the National News Office did not call us and your station director had not come today to fetch you, you could not have left here this way."
(Photos from ChuWangTai)
These are the burrows that the villagers
contructed on the plot to prevent construction.
"In order to carry out the land policy of the central government
and to protect the interests of the villagers, they gave up their precious lives."
Two of the mourning altars of the six deceased villagers
The villagers stored the dead in refrigerators
and refused to bury them until justice has been served.
Below are the weapons used against the villagers:
(UPI) Hebei Incident Shows China's Dark Side. By Edward Lanfranco. July 20, 2005.
In Hebei province, which surrounds the Beijing municipality on three sides, a village seethes with peasant unrest, Western media says.
For all the improvements China has made since its economic reforms started more than a quarter century ago, there is still a dark side of naked authoritarian rule.
The Foreign Correspondents Club of China sent out a circular Monday on behalf of the BBC, which contained a 2,400-word document by journalist Bessie Du describing the worsening situation in Shengyou, an embattled hamlet about 70 miles from Beijing.
The BBC account reveals the desperation of Shengyou villagers and includes sordid details on the detention, rough handling and strip-search ordeal Du, her cameraman and driver went through before their release. She told United Press International the experience was unpleasant, but neither she nor any of her colleagues suffered permanent injury.
Last Wednesday, a BBC TV crew traveled to Shengyou to interview a local resident who lost his father during a land protest last month. Farmers in the rural community had been assailed by approximately 250 men armed with hunting rifles, pipes sharpened into spears, clubs and Molotov cocktails. The assault left at least six dead and around 150 wounded.
Last week, state-run media announced the arrest of 106 suspects. Investigators allege the attack was the work of two contractors hired by the Hebei Guohua Power Co. to remove villagers camped on 64 acres of farmland to prevent its destruction.
Shengyou residents have refused to accept compensation from the state-owned company, which has been trying since 2003 to build a hydropower plant on 116 hectares of land occupied by 13 villages. Shengyou is the last place still offering resistance.
Journalists are barred from entering Dingzhou, the city with administrative responsibility over the embattled hamlet. The city's mayor and Communist Party chief were among five current and former party officials purged or dismissed from their posts after the riot. State media said they were removed for violating "economic and financial discipline" with regard to land-requisition procedures.
The new replacement apparatchiks are detaining reporters and keeping them in a Dingzhou hotel, according to the BBC. In an effort to evade the officials, the BBC crew changed vehicles, skirting south of Dingzhou to nearby Xinle, arriving at a meeting point several miles outside the small city after 1 a.m. Thursday. After about 40 minutes, Shengyou villagers showed up on a motorbike and a three-wheel tractor, Du said. Armed with knives and spears, they took the BBC crew on a back-road journey to the village in a bid to elude detection.
The journalists were led to a yard where Shengyou's village chiefs had offices. Bodies of the six farmers killed in last month's attack were kept in freezers, each housed in a separate room containing a shrine with a photo of the dead plus traditional food and incense offerings. Families and relatives guarded the remains 24 hours a day. Others guarded doorways and rooftops.
Villagers urged the BBC to start filming immediately because, they said, paid government informants would report to the authorities as soon as the news crew was detected. Du said villagers told them to leave as soon as possible.
The BBC correspondent said the situation in Shengyou was far worse than what had been reported in the Chinese and Western media. Villagers said the government had done nothing to redress their demands, aside from paying for the freezers.
Residents said the local government sealed off the village, afraid villagers would protest or file petitions. Authorities threatened to take the bodies away. Shengyou villagers have vowed to bury the remains only when the government catches and punishes all those responsible and explains the law enabling land to be seized.
Villagers were ready for government forces to intervene at any moment and were prepared to fight again. Locals said they had already lost lives and if they gave in, the lives would have been lost in vain.
The BBC crew slipped out of the village but was detained at 10 a.m. Thursday as they approached a highway tollgate on the Hebei-Beijing boundary. Authorities from the Zhouzhou police on the Hebei side of the border separated the reporter and her cameraman, dragging them into separate vehicles.
The news crew managed to inform colleague Rupert Wingfield-Hayes by cell phone in Beijing of their detention. They, in turn, informed the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the embassies (United States and Japan) of the two correspondents' countries. Shortly before 1 p.m., the two journalists and their driver were taken to the Zhouzhou Public Security Bureau.
Wingfield-Hayes praised the U.S. Embassy's willingness to protect Du, a U.S. citizen. He told UPI the British Embassy was "useless," saying it was not interested in the incident.
The veneer of civility accompanying most detentions was stripped away once the reporters refused to sign a document saying that according to Chinese criminal law, they were to be interrogated by Zhouzhou police. Du's mobile phone was wrenched from her hand, she said. She said one policewoman twisted her arm while the other grabbed her bag and pulled it forcefully away.
The reporter, cameraman and driver were strip-searched in separate interrogation chambers. At about 4:30 p.m., authorities "completed their procedure" and the TV crew was free to leave. Despite the search and interrogation, BBC managed to hide the footage from authorities.
Reference (in Chinese) Boxun: BBC记者采访定州绳油村历险记
(SCMP) Villagers keep up demands for justice. Minnie Chan. March 28, 2006.
Residents of Dingzhou, Hebei province, where six villagers were beaten to death last summer over a land dispute, have been taking turns to petition authorities in Beijing for further investigations into the case despite a court verdict last month.
Although a court in Handan city sentenced four people to death and Dingzhou party secretary He Feng to life in prison for their roles in the violent crackdown, the villagers say they are convinced the five are only scapegoats and Beijing must act to bring the real criminals to justice.
"He Feng's sentence is too light. Something is being covered up. We want to find the answer," said a relative of a 15-year-old beaten to death. "Otherwise, the souls of the six victims will not be able to rest."
But speaking in Beijing at the weekend, she said no higher-level courts had been willing to accept their appeal application.
A relative of Niu Tongyin , one of the six killed, said all the relatives of those killed or injured were unhappy with the verdict handed down by the Intermediate People's Court in Handan on February 7.
The relative said the court had stopped He from blowing the whistle over who actually ordered the crackdown.
"They [the authorities] want to cover up something. I heard He Feng said in court that one of the vice-mayors of Baoding city [which oversees Dingzhou] was involved in the incident," said the relative, who attended the trial.
"But he was stopped by the court and prosecutors from saying anything further. The judges only wanted him to explain things which were already stated in the bill of indictment."
The villagers said they were the fourth group to have come to Beijing to petition, and all their predecessors had been repatriated back to the village by Hebei officials sent to the capital to track them down. Just a day after the interview, these villagers were also sent home.
The first group arrived in Beijing on March 2 and was sent back the next day.
"Dingzhou authorities appointed more than 10 people to take turns to look for me around the clock every day early this month when the National People's Congress was meeting," said one of the villagers injured during the assault.
"As soon as we showed our identity cards to register at any guesthouses in Beijing, the officials from Dingzhou would know where we were."
Another protester said the provisional village committee still held the 25 hectares of farmland taken from the villagers, even though it had been ordered to return the land to the farmers in July.
The villagers said local authorities had only given each injured person 23 yuan a day as an indemnity payment when they were in hospital.
"Once we were discharged, they would not give us a fen," one injured villager said.
A 54-year-old woman who sustained cuts on her head, chest and knees said the injury reports produced by police in Baoding were just lies. "I was almost killed and I have been unable to walk on my own since then," she said. According to the police report, she was described as suffering from "minor injuries".
The villagers said they hoped the central government would intervene. "We can only hope the central government will help us to fight for justice as we don't trust local governments any more," one said, adding that they would not give up their struggle despite pressure from the local government.
When contacted yesterday, an official from the Dingzhou government's propaganda department would not respond to the villagers' complaints.
"I don't know anything about that," he said.
How events unfolded
* June 11, 2005 Six villagers are killed and 144 injured when more than 260 armed gangsters descend on farmers refusing to surrender 25 hectares of their land to an electronics factory in Shenyou village, Dingzhou , Hebei province
* July 8, 2005 All 248 suspects wanted for questioning over the violence, including Dingzhou party chief He Feng , are in police custody
* Feb 7, 2006 Twenty-seven people face charges over the attack in a court in the neighbouring city of Handan. Four of the defendants are sentenced to death, while He is jailed for life
(BBC News) Venturing into unreported China. September 7, 2007.
China has pledged more freedoms for reporters ahead of next year's Olympics, but when the BBC's Dan Griffiths travelled to the countryside to investigate reports of unrest he was detained and questioned.
The village of Shengyou is a three hour drive south of Beijing, deep in the countryside surrounded by fields of maize. A traditional landscape found across this vast nation - but everything is not as it seems. My taxi driver tells me that the police have set up checkpoints round the village. He refuses to go any further - so I go the rest of the way on foot.
I walk down a narrow lane with broad poplar trees on either side. A small tractor chugs by, the driver stares at me - foreigners are rarely seen around here. Round a bend in the road, I see two white vans. Several policemen are standing beside them. They look as out of place in rural China as I do.
The questions come thick and fast. What am I doing? Where have I come from? Who is my contact in the village? Over the course of the next few hours they will ask me this last question again and again. From nowhere a black car pulls up and I am ushered inside.
Two years ago there was a riot in Shengyou. In the early hours of a November morning a gang of more than 100 men entered the village. They were wearing camouflage gear and construction helmets, some armed with hunting rifles, clubs and shovels.
What happened next was filmed by a local resident and smuggled out to the international media. The video showed a series of bloody clashes between the villagers and the attackers. Gunshots could be heard above the shouting and screaming. When the fighting finally stopped, six people lay dead, more than 50 were injured. With the dramatic footage circulating, the authorities moved quickly.
State media said the Shengyou residents had been resisting the takeover of their property by an electricity company which wanted to build a power plant. It emerged that there had been a similar clash earlier in the year, which had gone unreported. Several local officials were sacked and the villagers won their claim to stay on the land. But now the police are back in Shengyou.
I am in the backseat of the black car on the way to the nearby town of Dingzhou. Next to me is one of the men from the checkpoint. He is not wearing a police uniform and refuses to give me his name or show me any ID.
The questions keep on coming - how do I know about Shengyou? Why was I on foot? I tell him that my taxi driver was too scared to go near the village. He laughs. At one point he reaches over and tries to grab my mobile phone. I ask some questions of my own - why are they detaining me? What is going on in Shengyou? He says nothing.
At the town's government headquarters, an official shakes my hand. "You are welcome to Dingzhou," he says, pretending that I am an honoured guest.
We sit around a large oval table. I am on one side, officials are on the other. Several refuse to give me their names. They want to see my journalist's identity card. And again the questions. New regulations issued this year were supposed to give foreign journalists much greater freedom to travel around the country. They were also supposed to mean less harassment from local officials - a common problem in the past and one that has not gone away.
I tell them I heard reports about problems in the village and had come down to look around. People living near Shengyou say that armed police were sent into the village two weeks ago. That was after residents dug up the bodies of those who had died in the violence in November 2005. They wanted to protest at the lack of official compensation for the families of those who were killed or injured then.
What is happening in Shengyou is not unique. It is another reminder of growing social tensions in rural China. The government has admitted that there were tens of thousands of rural protests last year. Many are about land grabs like the one attempted in Shengyou, others about corruption or the growing gap between rich and poor. The authorities in Beijing say they want to do something about these problems - but often officials at the local level ignore these edicts.
The interview is over. Officials say they will escort me back to the highway. I meet up with my driver, who has been waiting for me. Three officials also get in the car. They sit either side of me on the back seat. Another in the front. As we drive out of town a black car comes alongside. The driver says we must pull over. This game of cat and mouse continues up the highway to Beijing. Finally I tell my driver to ignore them and head home.
"Have you been to Beijing before?" I ask the officials. They laugh nervously. Then I see blue and red flashing lights. The police will not say why they have stopped us, nor will they say when we can go. We wait at the side of the road.
Up ahead there is a big neon sign lit up in green - "One World, One Dream". It is the official slogan of the Beijing Olympics. "Is this how you will treat journalists when China hosts the Olympics?" I ask one of them. "Oh, everything will be different then," he says.
Then another car pulls up, with representatives from the local office of China's foreign ministry. I know my colleagues in Beijing have been pressing the foreign ministry to take action. "There has been a terrible mistake, we are so sorry." They insist that we must go out for dinner with the officials from Dingzhou, then we can go back to Beijing.
It is a strange experience sitting round the same table with the men who detained me. It is not until the next day that my driver discovers that while we were eating, someone tampered with our car by removing several of the bolts that attach the wheels to the chassis.
It is nearly midnight by the time we arrive back in Beijing. We drive down the wide, brightly-lit boulevards, past the new office blocks. This is the China that Beijing wants the world to see. But in Shengyou there is another China - a world that goes unreported by the country's state-run media. China's president, Hu Jintao, has promised to build what he calls a "harmonious society", but three hours south of Beijing no-one in power seems to be listening.