The Yingde Mass Incident

(New Express)

According to the press bulletin from the Yingde city government, Yinghong town (Yingde city) residents Li Yujiao and others plotted to gather several hundred persons to petition at the city government office and created traffic jams on April 29 and May 11 this year.  This disrupted government business and hurt social stability.

On May 23, the Yingde police acted in accordance with the law and detained four instigators including Li Yujiao.  The family of those four persons organized 300 people to come down to the Hangkou police station to demand the immediate release of the detainees.  They inflamed the crowd by saying that the police had beaten one detainee to death already.  By 1pm, the crowd turned on the attack mode.  They threw rocks at three auxiliary policemen who were trying to persuade them to calm down.  They vandalized a fire truck.  They used petrol bombs to destroy four government vehicles and four motorcycles.  Some of them were even armed with hoes, sickles, lime powder, bamboo sticks and other weapons, and faced off against the police.  At 5pm, the Yingde police took strong measures against these criminal elements and restored calm and order.

The above was the official version, which is unsatisfactory because it provided no explanation what these people were petitioning about.  For that, you will have to read an earlier forum post.


On April 29 at around 3pm, several hundred overseas Chinese persons from Yinghong town gathered in front of the Yingde city government building.  They carried a wide banner that said: "Residual problems from the reform of the tea farms in Yinghong town: the Yinghong town government shut their doors on petitioners."  They demanded the city government to come and solve the problems.  Many spectators gathered there to watch while the militia police maintained order.

According to the demonstrators, this was not a suddenly breaking incident.  For the longest time, there have been serious corruption problems in Yinghong town.  The residents have reflected the problems to the Yingde city government and the Qingyuan city government, but these problems were never solved.  Why show up here now?  "We went to petition at the Yinghong town government office several days ago, but they shut the doors and ignored us.  So we were forced to come down to the city government office and ask the government to solve the problems."  The reporter asked: "What if you are not satisfied with the answer from the city government, what would you do next?  Will you keep staying here today?"  They replied: "Yes, if they don't give us an answer, we will sit here tonight and refuse to leave.  If the problems remain unsolved, we will go to Qingyuan city, to Guangzhou, to the provincial government, until we get satisfactory results!"

Several days ago, three Yinghong town cadres were arrested for corruption by the Qingyuan city government.  The residents were infuriated and they wanted the assets that were stolen from them returned.  But the town government ignored them.  So they walked 15 kilometers to the city government office and demanded a satisfactory response.  At 4:30pm, the city government opened its doors and the petitioners entered.

The problem with the reform of the Yinghong tea farms has been in existence for a very long time.  In the 1970's, a large group of overseas Chinese living in Vietnam were repatriated to Yinghong town, Yingde city.  Through the auspices of the government, they went to work in the tea farms.  Today, there are several tens of thousands of overseas Chinese from Vietnam living in Yinghong town.  But in spite of all these years, these overseas Chinese are still second-class citizens enmeshed in poverty.  When they farm in Yinghong town, they have to pay land rents.  Meanwhile Yinghong town residents do not pay rent and even receive government subsidies.  They also receive next to nothing when they retire.  One representative said heatedly: "Meanwhile those corrupt officials take all the money and go to buy houses and cars in Shenzhen.  If they didn't steal our money, we would have bought houses and cars already ..."

Here are the photos from the mass incident on May 24:

(Washington Post)  Flare-Ups of Ethnic Unrest Shake China's Self-Image   By Ariana Eunjung Cha.  July 19, 2009.

Six weeks after a violent confrontation between police and villagers in this old tea farming region, Xu Changjian remains in the hospital under 24-hour guard.

After being hit in the head multiple times by police, Xu's brain is hemorrhaging, leaving him paralyzed on the right side. He can barely sit up. Local government officials say Xu's injuries and that of other farmers were regrettable but unavoidable. They say that villagers attacked their police station on the afternoon of May 23 and that the police were forced to defend themselves with batons, dogs, pepper spray, smoke bombs and water cannons.

The villagers, most of them Vietnamese Chinese, tell a different story. They say that about 30 elderly women, most in their 50s and 60s, went to the police station that day to stage a peaceful protest. Four farmers' representatives, who had taken their grievances about land seizures to government officials a few days earlier, had been detained, and villagers in the countryside of the southern province of Guangdong demanded that they be freed. As the hours passed, several thousand supporters and curious passersby joined them. Then, farmers say, hundreds of riot police bused from neighboring towns stormed in without warning and started indiscriminately pummeling people in the crowd.

The violence in Guangdong was echoed in the far western city of Urumqi, when clashes between ethnic Uighurs and Han Chinese on July 5 killed 192 people and injured about 1,700. Both incidents have shaken China's view of itself as a country that celebrates diversity and treats its minority populations better than its counterparts in the West do.

The incidents in Guangdong and Urumqi fit a pattern of ethnic unrest that includes the Tibetan uprising in March 2008, followed by bombings at police stations and government offices in the majority Uighur province of Xinjiang that left 16 officers dead shortly before the August Olympics.

Each conflict has had specific causes, including high unemployment, continued allegations of corruption involving public officials and charges of excessive force by police. But for the Chinese government, they add up to a major concern: Friction among the nation's 56 officially recognized ethnic groups is considered one of the most explosive potential triggers for social instability. Much of the unrest stems from a sense among some minority populations that the justice system in China is stacked against them. In March, hundreds of Tibetans, including monks, clashed with police in the northwestern province of Qinghai. The fight was apparently triggered by the disappearance of a Tibetan independence activist who unfurled a Tibetan flag while in police custody. Some said he committed suicide, but others said he died while trying to escape.

In April, hundreds of members of China's Hui Muslim minority clashed with police in Luohe in Henan province when they surrounded a government office and blocked three bridges. The protesters were angry about what they viewed as the local authorities' mishandling of the death of a Hui pedestrian who was hit by a bus driven by a Han man.

"In the United States and other countries, if a few police beat one person, it is big news; but here in China, it is nothing," said Zhang Shisheng, 52, a grocery store owner whose right shin and calf bones were shattered during the attacks. Metal rods now support his shin, and he will not be able to walk for at least six more months.

"I feel that Chinese cops can kill people like ants with impunity."

Xiang Wenming, a local party official and head of the Stability Maintenance Office in the area of Yingde where the clash occurred, said that "if some violence happened, that is because some people didn't listen to the police."

He denies that the Vietnamese Chinese protesters were treated any differently than non-minorities in the same situation would have been and said that if they feel set apart from other Chinese, it is their own doing. "The way they speak is not like they are Chinese but like they are foreigners," he said. "They never appreciate the assistance made by the government. They don't think they are Chinese even after they have lived here for more than 30 years."

Xiang said that about 10 villagers, including an "old woman" who was "slightly injured," were hurt during the conflict. But he acknowledges that the official government count does not include the large number of people detained by police and treated at the station, as well as those who fled the scene and avoided going to the hospital for fear of being arrested.

Vietnamese Chinese who were involved in or witnessed the confrontation said hundreds were injured.

Zhang's neighbor, 63-year-old Xie Shaochang, is still bleeding from a gash in his head that he said was caused by police. And 56-year-old Zhong Yuede can no longer straighten his arm because it was so badly beaten in the attack.

The unrest in Yingde began with a simple land dispute.

The villagers, many of whom were welcomed to China from Vietnam in 1978-79 because their ancestors had lived here, were farming tea and vegetables until a few years ago, when the local government sold part of their land to Taiwanese developers. They have been petitioning the local government ever since for compensation in the form of money, other land or subsidies for houses.

The Vietnamese Chinese villagers said that despite their efforts to assimilate -- the younger generations speak Chinese dialects rather than Vietnamese -- discrimination has been a big part of their lives.

Residents say that in 2006, when there was a flood, the Vietnamese Chinese villagers received only five kilograms of rice per person -- worth about 20 yuan, or $3 -- while others received 200 yuan, or $30, from the local government. They also say that their roads have not been paved, while those of villages inhabited largely by Han people, the country's majority ethnic group, have been. They say that factory bosses and other employers discriminate against them and that it is difficult to find decent jobs.

"The government doesn't help us, mainly because we are Vietnam Chinese. We are poor and uneducated, so no one in our group works for the government," said Chen Ruixiang, 53, a farmer who raises silkworms and grows tangerines. "The government knows we are a weak group."

On the day of the incident, Chen Ajiao, 55, the village doctor, was in the front row near the police station door with the elderly female protesters when the soldiers came toward her. She said one of them took his baton and whacked her friend on the head. The woman lost consciousness and collapsed. Chen ran, and on the way out, she said, she saw other villagers bleeding from their wounds.

When bystanders saw the women being attacked, villagers said, they grabbed stones, bricks, bamboo sticks and anything else they could find and fought back. Some men took gasoline from nearby motorcycles, put it in bottles and threw it at the police cars to set them on fire.

Zhang, who was about 30 yards outside the gates, said four police officers came at him with batons and an iron stick. He said that after he collapsed in pain, he was taken to the police station, where he was not treated by doctors until he submitted to an interrogation. He said he was asked: Who organized this? Who informed you?

"Before, I thought police would protect people. Now, I am terrified of them," he said.