Land Grabs: Why Take The Risk?

Villagers who demonstrated against an alleged land grab in front of the Guangzhou city government building on Tuesday have won official concessions from the local government. From AFP:

In the latest protest, around 1,000 people from Wanggang village gathered in front of a government building in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong, Tuesday in protest against Li Zhihang, their allegedly corrupt Communist Party secretary.

They waited there until the early hours of Wednesday, when they were told officials would probe their case and would announce the result of the investigation by February 19, Li Zhikai, a local villager, told AFP.

“They will dispatch a working team to our village to investigate property and financial records and have promised we can elect new members of a party committee,” he said by phone.

According to a petition posted online by the villagers, they had tried to petition the government on several occasions but to no avail, and so decided to protest peacefully.

One observer told AFP that the Guangdong authorities had to give into the demands of the Wanggang protestors in order to both validate their approach in Wukan and avoid more demonstrations. The Diplomat’s Jiang Xueqin digs into China’s land grab issue in light of incidents in Wukan and elsewhere, asking why the practice is so prevalent despite the risks it poses to the Communist Party regime:

The Party’s authority and legitimacy are predicated on guaranteeing at least 8 percent GDP growth a year, and economic growth is the mandate of all Party officials. If you’re Ningbo or Yantai or any large Chinese urban center with an entrepreneurial population and large resources then that’s not a problem. But if you’re a rural township of subsistence farmers then your best shot at producing the numbers you need to win praise and promotion is to grab that worthless land and put a factory or a condo on it. The magic of economic statistics is that, even if the factory or condo is empty, the value of land shoots up, and so does your career prospects.

Land grabbing is the Chinese equivalent of alchemy, and this quick immediate economic fix is just too addictive for local officials to say no to. This is a problem not just commonplace in the villages, but everywhere in China.

Consider the Chinese public school system, which focuses on test scores and college enrollment statistics. The system destroys students’ creativity and curiosity, independence and imagination, but as long as you get eighty percent of your students into tier one colleges you’re promoted and rewarded as a brilliant educator – just like magic!

No official was arrested because of the Wukan uprising. That’s because, as everyone knows in China, those officials were just doing their job.