So far at the 18th Party Congress, observers have found few signs that point to substantial political reforms under the new leadership. But while Chinese political insiders debate the merits of reforming the system from the top, USA Today interviews a number of farmers who are trying to make smaller scale changes to fight injustice at their level:
In the past two years, Bai, Xu Weidong and other local farmers have clashed with local officials and refused to pay some fees after they found documents that appear to show the farm has broken both state and local rules in grossly overcharging farmers since 2006. Bai paid the penalty for such defiance last January when her crops were confiscated.
As prices rise, the nearly 1 million farmers within Heilongjiang’s state-run “reclamation region” should be earning healthy profits, but many are exploited by an unfair system, and scrape by on loans, says Li Baihuang, a human rights lawyer. “It’s like a modern form of slavery.”
If they complain, the farm administrative bureau relies on its state-approved control of local police, prosecutors and judges to confiscate crops and property and sentence farmers to “re-education through labor” camps, he says. “China’s laws and regulations are of no use here,” says Li, who has taken the case of 10 farmers, trying to recover their land-use certificates from local authorities, to the State Council, China’s “Cabinet.”
Officials deny farmers’ accusations of corruption. “This farm is all state-owned land, so only we have the right to use it, not individual farmers,” says Zhu He’an, the Qianjin farm director. “Most farmers are happy. Only a handful of people cause chaos, as they don’t pay the administrative fees,” which he says follow national standards.