Mainland official hails bloody riots as a sign of democracy; Vice-minister says protests inevitable as country undergoes huge changes

WANG XIANGWEI – The South China Morning Post

Monday, July 4, 2005
Violent protests by the mainland’s farmers are inevitable due to the country’s enormous social
and economic changes, according to a top central government official in charge of agricultural policy.
Chen Xiwen also hailed farmers’ willingness to speak up against injustice as a sign of democracy.
While stressing that he did not approve of using violence, the recent spate of protests
demonstrated that farmers now knew how to protect their rights and interests, said Mr Chen,
vice-minister of the Office of the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs.
Reports of such protests also helped the central leadership act quickly and solve problems faced by
farmers, Mr Chen said in an interview with the South China Morning Post.
The mainland has been hit by a spate of violent protests by farmers in recent weeks, mainly over
land disputes and pollution. In April, thousands of farmers fought a bloody battle with police and
officials over unpopular chemical plants in Huaxi village in Dongyang , Zhejiang province , while
at least six people were killed in Hebei province last month when several hundred armed thugs
attacked villagers who refused to hand over their land to an electronics factory.
“On the one hand, riots like the one in Dongyang are a tragedy and show that local authorities
failed to do a proper job,” Mr Chen said. “But on the other hand, they show that our farmers know
to protect their rights, which is a good thing.
“It shows farmers’ democratic awareness is improving, but unfortunately their sense of law and
order has not improved as quickly.”
Mr Chen, who has studied mainland agricultural issues for more than 20 years, is the key official
credited with drafting a series of central government documents in the past two years that have
helped reduce farmers’ tax burden and allocated more funds to boost agricultural production.
Uncharacteristic of officials’ usual aversion to sensitive issues, Mr Chen is ready to admit the
problems and discuss policy from a unique perspective.
Referring to several damning reports on the plight of farmers that have attracted international
attention in recent years, he said more protests had gone unreported.
“There are at least 3 million villages across the country and you can imagine how many problems
crop up each day,” he said.
“If there are 30,000 villages having problems, that accounts for only 1 per cent of the total.
People have to look at this from a national perspective and against a backdrop of phenomenal social
and economic changes taking place.
“Overseas media tend to play up the riots, and it is their job to do so. But you have to remember,
things are getting better for farmers generally and few of them would tell you that they want to go
back to the past, despite their complaints.”
Mr Chen hailed the role of the media and internet in reporting the riots, which he said enabled the
higher authorities to act quickly.
“Now, thanks to the internet, any incident will quickly come to the attention of the highest level
of mainland leadership. In the past, they could easily be covered up by local officials,” he said.
He said as China was going through a critical stage of reform, the interests of certain groups like
farmers could be easily hurt.
Copyright – The South China Morning Post

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