Farm protest muted after leader gets labour stretch

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 January, 2008, 12:00am

The two years' re-education through labour imposed on a peasant leader may serve as a stern warning to farmers in Fujin , Heilongjiang, but the question remains: can the peasants' move to reclaim land ownership be stopped?

A bold attempt by farmers to claim and divide among themselves farmland seized by local authorities was aborted with the arrest of Yu Changwu a month ago.

The formerly united villagers - 600 of the 900 in Dongnangang signed a letter declaring their ownership of the land - are now muted and frightened.

One said farmers could not carry on without their leader, but Yu's family said it was upset by the apathy of villagers in the wake of the 52-year-old's sentence.

Yu was sentenced to two years in a labour camp by police in Jiamusi on Thursday for endangering state security, family members who declined to be named said.

They said Yu was charged because he spoke to foreign journalists - but analysts said that was merely an excuse to stop the movement before it spread, as many other villagers had been closely watching the land-reclamation campaign.

Yu Jianrong , a Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Rural Development expert on peasant movements, said he believed similar campaigns by farmers would mushroom. 'The root cause of the land problem has not been solved,' Professor Yu said. 'For farmers, they believe the land they have farmed for generations is theirs and they are just proclaiming their rights.

'When the problem is not solved and when farmland still belongs to the collective, which is so vague that nobody knows what it really is, farmers will just use one way or another to proclaim their rights.'

He said the government would eventually have to address the issue. 'Land is the core issue of farmers' protests and the problem is getting really serious.'

Professor Yu said most protests by farmers were over land disputes.

Activists who support Yu's movement share similar views. Some are optimistic the government might privatise farmland if farmers rise up to claim ownership.

But others are less optimistic.

A rural expert who requested anonymity said the government might back off from substantial reforms if farmers pressed too hard for land privatisation.