Around 100 construction workers ransacked a Zhuang ethnic minority village in Yunnan last week, forcing hundreds of villagers to hide deep in the mountains, state media reported.
Wednesday's attack on Yan village, in Funing county, appeared to be triggered by a dispute a day earlier between villagers and workers from the China Railway Tunnel Group.
A few villagers were splashed with mud when two workers rode past them on their motorcycles, Funing county propaganda official Chen Yujiang said. The villagers demanded 600 yuan (HK$740) in compensation from the workers and then beat them, China News Services reported.
Nearly 100 staff from the company returned the next day and ransacked 56 households in the village, Chen said.
The report also cited an earlier online posting that offered a slightly different account, alleging an unnamed "boss" with the China Railway Tunnel Group had ordered iron-bar-wielding workers to smash and loot the village.
The company is building a section of the Yunnan-Guangxi railway line in Funing.
A resident of a nearby village said: "Three or four trucks carrying more than 100 bruisers armed with iron bars or wooden clubs arrived before ransacking the homes of several villagers."
A woman at China Railway Tunnel Group's headquarters in Luoyang, Henan, said last night she knew nothing about the case and that company managers were off duty.
Repeated calls to the Public Security Bureau in Funing went unanswered.