China – Violence Over Land Seizures Continues

The BBC News Service reports that the confrontation between the Chinese authorities and and villagers in Wukan continues. China Protest Worsens in Guangdong After Villager Death, December 14, 2011. New protests broke out several days ago after the death of a villager while in police custody. The protests broke out over the authorities takings of villagers land in order to convey it to [re]developers. The reason for such rioting is that when villagers’ land is seized, the “compensation” they receive can be a joke. The Chinese authorities calculate it not based on market value, but on the income the seized farm produces, which, given the prevailing low standard of living over there, and the increase in the highest and best use when the land is reclassified as usable for intensive development, can be as little as 5% of what the local officials charge redevelopers when they reconvey the seized land to them – click here.

Shortly before midnight on December 14, 2011, BBC reported that news of these events disappeared from the web — web users seeking the Chinese site reporting these events get a message reading “According to relevant law, regulations and policies, search results for Wukan cannot be displayed.”

So if you ever needed an example of the interrelationship between property rights and other liberties, here it is: where private property rights are not secure, neither are other liberties, like freedom of speech.

And by the way, if you mean to do some surfing on this point yourself, note that though the BBC and the New York Times refer to the village in question as Wukan, others on the web use the name Wuhan.

Afterthought. We don’t know what took us so long, but it just dawned on us that this story has gone unmentioned in the Los Angeles Times. You can read there recent stories about a Chinese 90-year old reindeer wrangler, the air escaping from the Chinese real estate bubble, the Panda census, urban air pollution, and unrest inspired by general economic conditions. But we find nothing in recent L.A. Times coverage about the unrest inspired by land confiscation, even though according to the BBC there are thousands of the latter kind of protests in China every year. Interesting.

Follow up. Guess what? Unlike the L.A. Times, the New York Times features this story on the front page. Andrew Jacobs, Village Revolts Over Inequities of Chinese Life, N.Y. Times, December 15, 2011, at p. A1 — click here. This article reports more details than the BBC but it does its usual politically correct dance around the mulberry bush, and starts out by reciting that the Chinese are protesting “worsening pollution, claims of unpaid wages, or instances of police brutality.”  Only after reciting these politically correct causes, does the N.Y. Times get around to telling its readers that “A major source of unrest, including in Wukan, is the seizure of land by well connected private developers and government officials, which invariably involves forced evictions for meager compensation.”

We also learn from the NY Times that “Last year, there were as many as 180,000 outbursts of what sociologists here describe as ‘mass incidents: strikes, sit-ins, rallies and violent clashes that have mushroomed alongside China’s breakneck economic expansion.” 180,000 “outbursts” last year?!  That’s almost 500 per day, or 20 per hour. We flat-out don’t believe it, but if true, that means China is on the verge of a revolution.

Still, even if the real numbers are much lower, it’s a case of so much for the workers’ and peasants’ paradise. Even allowing for the disparity in the respective sizes of populations, can you imagine the Times’ response if other countries of which the Times does not approve, were to experience a comparable daily number of “outbursts’?