Exclusive eyewitness accounts
Mass protests against forced evictions in Shengzhou
20,000 local residents, workers and youth took part in an all-night vigil and demonstration, repelling an attack by armed riot police, on 19 June in the eastern city of Shengzhou as part of a road clearance scheme. This mass mobilisation was part of a campaign against the demolition of a housing block, with residents complaining compensation from the local government is too low.
Chinaworker.info, the CWI’s Chinese website, has received exclusive reports and photos from the movement in Shengzhou, in the coastal province of Zhejiang, which is the latest in a wave of urban and rural protests against land seizures, and the property developers and corrupt local politicians (from the so called ’communist’ party) that profit from them.
At the centre of the protest in Shengzhou is a 90-year-old woman, Mrs Zhang, who refuses to leave the house her family has lived in since before the 1949 revolution. The house has become yet another "nail" – the popular term for buildings that stick out from the rubble as residents dig-in to fight eviction orders. Tents have been erected on the roof of the building that has become a command centre for anti-eviction activists. It is draped with banners demanding "fair compensation" and the red Chinese flag – to make the point that the demonstrators are "the people" whose rights are being trampled upon by the politicians in league with capitalist developers.
At the time of writing, demolition crews have been unable to move in on the property. This represents a big victory for the campaign, and the huge mobilisation against the police and demolition crews in Shengzhou’s city centre on the night of 18-19 June. One resident told chinaworker’s reporter how police and security guards burst into the house, fully armed, while most of the family were asleep. A 50-year-old woman was thrown to the ground and other family members were struck by batons. Police and construction workers with oxyacetylene cutting equipment tried to burn through the iron gate into the threatened house, but the occupants "stacked gas cylinders by the door, and told them, ’we die, you die!’" – a tactic that worked.
Anger at police brutality
By this time a crowd was gathering around the "nail" only to be attacked with batons by police who claimed they were arresting "hooligans". Another demonstrator told chinaworker, "We heard a special anti-riot squad had been summoned to the city and would arrive within half an hour. But outside the building more and more people were gathering, thousands of people. The whole square was jam-packed. People had heard the news and probably 10,000 were there by this time."
Later the same evening the crowd had swelled to 20,000. Stones and bottles flew as tough police tactics – indiscriminate beatings including of women and the elderly – outraged the crowd. In particular, this applied to the police decision to call in fire engines, turning their hoses on the crowd. Twenty demonstrators were injured; five are reported to be in serious condition. Five police officers were also injured and five police cars were trashed. Later in the night the crowd marched on the Shengzhou government offices and overturned the main gate, demanding that officials answer for their actions.
Shengzhou is symptomatic of wider processes in China as the wealth gap widens to absurd levels and working class families face astronomical costs for basic services like healthcare and education. Resentment towards local ’communist’ politicians is palpable across the country – only a spark is needed to trigger protests. Often police brutality provides this spark. There has been a rash of protests in recent weeks triggered by violent policing. In June alone there have been clashes involving tens of thousands in Hohhot (Inner Mongolia), Zhengzhou (Henan province), Chongqing and the Tibetan regions of western Sichuan province.