In Praise of Chinese Peasant Riots
The title is sensationalized, because this post is just a speculative scenario.
According to Ta Kung Pao (via Boxun), mass incidents have become the biggest problem for social stability in China. There have been more incidents, their scales are getting bigger, the issues are becoming broader, the types of behaviors are becoming more extreme and the activities appear to be more organized. From 1993 to 2003, the number of mass incidents has increased from 10,000 to more than 60,000 and the number of participants has increased from 700,000 to more than 3 million. That is the general background.
In the The Shengyou (Dingzhou) Incident, the horrifying nature of the attack on the protesting villagers by hired thugs was documented on video. Many of the hired thugs have been arrested together with the organizers. A reporter wrote:
The villagers said that the village cadres have disappeared since the incident: "They are not cadres from our village. We hadn't elected them!"
In The Chen Xiwen Interviews, the top agricultural policy expert in the Chinese government was interviewed:
Recently, peasants have exploded with protests in Henan Dingzhou, Zhejiang Dongyang and other places. Six peasants died as a result of the assault in Dingzhou. Chen Xiwen sighed and said, "The Dingzhou assault was a tragedy and showed that the local government did not have a system to respond to demands. But this may be a good thing to show the existing problems inside the system, except that the price is quite huge."
According to Xinhua (via Boxun), three village cadres were found to have violated financial discipline and therefore dismissed them from their jobs. One big mystery about Shengyou was the fact that this was a long festering problem in which the peasants have squatted on the disputed land for months to prevent construction. Fifty days before this incident, a couple dozens of hired thugs attacked the peasants. One hired thug was detained by the peasants and held there for more than 2 months. The astonishing thing was that the poilce never came to investigate the first incident. They did even speak to the detained attacker. Obviously, something had gone wrong within the law enforcement system. Xinhua announced that He Feng, party secretary of Dingzhou, and Yang Jingkai, party secretary of Kaiyuan, have been detained and are under investigation. The village of Shengyou falls under the jurisdiction of Dingzhou and Kaiyuan. So far, the Shengyou villagers are winning in the courts of public opinion as well as law (noting again, at a huge price).
In The Libel Trial for The Chinese Peasant Study, the mystery was just why a straightforward verdict in a civil lawsuit has not yet been returned by the court panel of judges. Normally, the verdict should have been returned within a week; instead, the wait has been almost one full year already. Let me suggest that the dynamic in this case is determined by what has been observed in mass incidents that have been in the news.
What do we know about the libel case? First of all, everybody knew that it was another struggle between the peasants (who regard the two authors as their spokespersons) versus local government officials. During the trial proceedings, peasant supporters traveled several hours per day from their villages to the courthouse, where most of the them were not even allowed to enter (see photo below of peasants milling outside the courthouse).
Those who attended the trial, including government officials and the judges, were no doubt aware of the emotions involved. There was the stunning sight of a peasant witness finishing her testimony and then getting down on her knees to beg the judges to give her justice. So let me suggest this scenario -- if the court panel returns a verdict against the two authors, a crowd in the thousands will spontaneously come from the villages to surround the Fuyang City courthouse to protest. This will be a mass incident. It may be peaceful or it may even be violent, but what is for certain is that the world will see and hear about it. The judges and the local government officials can sense the pressure coming up from below.
But there is also pressure coming down from above. From the Chen Xiwen interviews:
In the book "The Chinese Peasant Study" published last year, there were reports about how the peasants were exploited by local governments in many ways. This book had received attention outside of China. Chen Xiwen acknowledged frankly that what the book says is "actually true" and he even admitted that the problems in reality are "far more than these." Chen had even purchased a few copies of the book to give to other people.
Thus, an important person in the central government has indicated in no uncertain terms that he believes in what is depicted in the book.
He said that the fact that the peasants are fighting back means that their democratic awareness is rising and that they will protect their own interests. Chen said that some peasants understood the central government's documents even better than local government officials. "Of course, their sense about law and order is not increasing as quickly as their democratic awareness."
In the event of a verdict against the two authors, would Chen Xiwen still counsel the peasants to depend on the rule of law? If the protestors should be met by force, would Chen Xiwen still counsel them to respect order?
In the case of the Shengyou (Dingzhou) incident, central and provincial governments came down hard on local governments in the event of clear wrong-doing. What officials would look forward to being 'detained to assist in an investigation'? If these two factors were the only considerations, then the politically astute decision is to rule against the plaintiff and for the defendants. That would have relieved the pressure from the bottom and the top. Why hasn't this been done yet? What has there been an obscenely long delay? There must be some other consideration not obvious to the public.