Revolutionary Worker #1101, May 6, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org
For three years 1,400 peasants in the Chinese village of Yuntang have rebelled against the government--refusing to pay what they call illegal and impossibly high local taxes and fees. For this, officials have labeled them a "criminal gang." Last year, anticipating an attack by the police, residents of Yuntang erected a strong iron gate across the only road into the village. They kept it locked and guarded to prevent the entry of official vehicles.
On April 18, in the middle of the night, 600 anti-riot police armed with rifles, pistols, and electric prods launched a vicious raid on the people of Yuntang. Officers got through the roadblock, started breaking into homes, waking people up. In front of the primary school, troops confronted hundreds of angry peasants. Then, at 4:20 a.m., they opened fire.
Witnesses said the police first began firing low, at people's legs. But when the peasants started fighting back with rocks and sticks, the troops shot to kill. Two men were killed, a third paralyzed, and as many as 38 others were reported wounded and taken to hospitals.
This latest report of intense fighting between rebellious peasants and government forces once again highlights how the return of capitalism in China has meant deepening misery and impoverishment for hundreds of millions of people.
For over 25 years, China was a socialist country where society was run in the interests of the people. But in 1976, after the death of Mao Tsetung, a new government led by Deng Xiaoping came to power. Socialism was overthrown and capitalism was restored. The socialist path of getting rid of inequality and all oppression was reversed. And now in capitalist China, the gap between the rich and poor, between the city and the countryside, between men and women--all the differences and inequalities in class society--are being deepened and widened. The country is, once again, under the domination of foreign powers and China's leaders have opened the door wide for imperialist investors who dream of high profits to be made from sweatshop conditions and cheap labor.
The Chinese government has tight control over the news media, and information about anti-government struggles is frequently censored. Sometimes, news of a revolt involving thousands peasants leaks out only weeks or months later. Many other incidents never make international news. But reports that have come out reveal an intense situation in the vast countryside of growing struggle against unemployment, high taxes, government corruption, lack of health care and the general deterioration of living conditions. Clearly, hundreds of thousands of Chinese peasants are proving Mao's statement that "Where there is oppression, there is resistance."
History of Peasant Rebellion
The peasants in the rice-farming village of Yuntang face the same situation as a lot of other farmers throughout the countryside, where most of the people in China live. While some sectors of China's economy are booming with new investment, incomes for most farmers have stagnated and the situation has steadily grown more desperate--giving rise to mass rebellions that have been going on now for years.
Yuntang is in Jiangxi province, an area known for peasant rebellion--not only in recent years, but going back to the history of the Chinese Revolution. Mao's Red Army began in Jiangxi province on August 1, 1927, when tens of thousands of troops seized Nanchang from Chiang Kaishek's Nationalist soldiers. And Jiangxi was also the starting point of the famous Long March.
Resentment in Yuntang against rising taxes and official corruption had been building for years. But it took a leap in 1998 when taxes and fees were raised by nearly one-third--to $36 per one-seventh acre of cropland. In a normal year this would be a high burden in Yuntang where families control little more than half an acre of rice paddy and, if lucky, manage a meager profit. But to add to the peasants' normal misery, that year the vast flooding of the Yangtze River basin wiped out most of their crops. The peasants in Yuntang refused to pay any taxes at all. Then in 1999, farm taxes were increased yet again and the farmers were told they must pay their arrears from 1998 as well. They refused, again, to pay.
Villagers say the agricultural tax would crush them financially. Families generally receive a fifth of an acre per person. After the tax, fertilizer and irrigation fees, they would be left with an annual profit of no more than $22 for each plot.
In February 1999, four truckloads of police officers and officials tried to enter the village but were repelled by an angry crowd. In October that same year, three villagers working in the nearby city of Yingtan were arrested--and officials were forced to release them after peasants blocked a highway and surrounded the car of the mayor. Villagers in Yuntang also reported that last July, some 600 police officers tried to force their way into the village, but were repelled by a defiant crowd.
Then, at the beginning of April, President Jiang Zemin announced a new "strike hard" campaign--aimed at cracking down on anti-government activity. Police arrested five alleged ringleaders of the rebel peasants in Yuntang, including Su Guosheng. One villager told a reporter, "The strike hard campaign began on April 14, at that time many buses carrying some thousand armed police came to the village and cordoned it off." Su's daughter, Su Xifeng, said her father was ambushed by more than 20 police in the morning after government officials lured him to the riverside to see a spot they claimed could be used for a power station. Another witness said the police grabbed him by the feet and took him away by motorboat. The next day the police launched their full-scale raid on the village.
After the attack was over, the police occupied the village and ordered people to bury the two men who were killed, 38-year-old Yu Xinguang and 22-year-old Yu Xinquan. But the peasants refused to hand the bodies over to the police--saying they wanted them as evidence, along with a pile of empty shell casings they had gathered up.
After a reporter from the United States managed to get into Yuntang and interview people, police set up roadblocks outside the village. And the Chinese government has maintained a news blackout of the incident. An American reporter who later tried to get into the area was immediately detained and sent back to Beijing on the first available flight.
Meanwhile the police put Yuntang village on lockdown, permitting only family members to leave to visit injured relatives in nearby hospitals. By telephone, one villager told a reporter, "The closing off of the village shows that they don't respect human rights and they interfere with [our] freedom. Everybody is afraid because they don't know what is going to happen next. They are afraid they will come in again and arrest more people."
Trapped in their village, the peasants in Yuntang issued a series of demands which includes the release of Su Guosheng, compensation for the two people killed, free medical care for those injured and the firing of a Yujiang County official whom they blame for years of high taxes.
The situation in Yuntang reflects widespread unrest throughout China's countryside--where in recent years hundreds of thousands of peasants have rebelled against the government in many different ways.
Last August, in a county not far from Yuntang, 20,000 farmers armed with sticks and clubs surrounded a town hall in protest against heavy taxation. According to Chinese officials, more than 2,000 militiamen were sent in to try and put down the struggle, scores of peasants were arrested, and it took five days to bring things under control. The rebellion spread to other towns, where farmers shattered windows and attacked officials' homes.
According to one report in August 1997, in just a few months, more than 500,000 peasants in more than 270 townships and villages in over 50 counties in Hunan, Hubei, Anhui, and Jiangxi provinces staged parades and demonstrations and carried out petitioning activities. In some localities such activities turned into riots.
From May to August of 1997, there were major riots by 200,000 peasants in Hunan Province in over 80 townships and villages. In Jiangxi Province there were riots by 100,000 peasants in over 70 townships and villages. In many places, there were incidents of peasants seizing county party and government buildings. In one county, over 800 peasants assaulted the public security bureau and confronted the soldiers and policemen for more than 70 hours. There have been reports of many other incidents involving hundreds of thousands of peasants staging demonstrations, raiding party and government buildings, occupying government offices, stopping trains, fighting with the police and in some instances, seizing guns and ammunition.
The return of capitalism in China has meant a growing gap between rich and poor. And there is especially a stark and growing gap between those who live in the cities and the poor peasants in the countryside--who make up two-thirds of the population.
When China was a socialist country, great advances were made in narrowing the gap between the countryside and the cities--as well as eliminating all kinds of other inequalities in society. But today, capitalist China's policies are driven by the brutality of the free market and the drive for profit. This has given rise to increasing misery and impoverishment-- and an explosive situation where millions of workers and peasants are proving Mao's famous statement that "It's right to rebel against reactionaries!"
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