A suicide bombing in a rural Guangdong village left five dead and five injured on Monday, March 22. A swiftly imposed media blackout left details of the incident vague but it seems that the attacker, a 59-year-old local, was upset about village officials’ plan to demolish homes for a Shanghai conglomerate’s development project. It is not rare for land disputes in rural China to trigger unrest—as with the famed 2011 Wukan protests, which began over allegations of corrupt land sales—or violence. This latest incident comes on the heels of China’s self-declared victory over rural poverty and in the wake of new centrally issued directives that ease restrictions on rural land sales. At China Media Project, David Bandurski reconstructed the attacker’s motives by piecing together fragmented reports from across China’s media landscape:
Today the Guangzhou story has settled into eerie silence across the Chinese media landscape. News editors are reportedly under instructions to use only official copy from Xinhua — ensuring that if the story is told at all, it is told only in the way the authorities see fit.
[…] From media in Hong Kong, however, we get a much fuller picture. The Apple Daily reports on page 17 today that the bombing in Mingjing Village is related to a major development project underway in the area that involves the Shanghai-based Shenglong Group, one of the country’s largest real-estate companies, which also has developments in the US and Australia. The project, which involves the renovation of Mingjing Village – which like hundreds of other villages in the area has a deep history – will create an area to showcase technology innovation, and has an estimated total investment of around 1.2 billion US dollars.
[…] Fortunately, a cached version of the story as it appeared at QQ is still available. In fact, the story does not explicitly state a link between the explosion Monday and the planned village renovation project in Mingjing. But the implication of a connection is strong, and Jiemian even quotes Shenglong Group as saying that demolition work has not yet begun because the project is not far enough along. This clues us in to the fact that demolition and removal, and related compensation issues, are almost surely involved here. [Source]
The AFP, linked through The Guardian, also reported that the bombing was connected to a rural land dispute:
Local media said the blast occurred at the village committee office, which decides on matters linked to land use.
Officials had given 270 acres of land to a developer in Shanghai last year to recreate an old village to attract tourists, according to Guangzhou Daily.
The eight-billion yuan ($1.2bn) project involves relocating farmers already on the land. Several people who claimed to be living near the area said online that the attack was triggered by a dispute over compensation.
It is unclear how many families are to be relocated for the project. [Source]
Some netizens who claimed to be living nearby said the incident seemed to have been triggered by the village officials’ move to forcefully collect land from villagers, which the netizen claimed was achieved in a sneaky way that hurt villagers’ benefits.
— William Yang (@WilliamYang120) March 22, 2021
Of course, just as I tweet this, my phone blows up with news of six dead at the hands of a shooter in Colorado. Immediately reportedhttps://t.co/HRVzaZfcho
— Keegan Elmer (@inthenewera) March 23, 2021
Meanwhile, Chinese social media at the time was abuzz with commentary, shocked by the killing, and but also commenting on corruption. I took a few screenshots. As I feared, some have been deleted, by the authors or otherwise… pic.twitter.com/5z9NZ6ZDXo
— Keegan Elmer (@inthenewera) March 23, 2021
The paucity of information on the bombing reflects the sensitivity surrounding rural violence. David Paulk, an English-language editor at the state-owned Sixth Tone, wrote on Twitter that news organizations are only allowed to publish “official” reports, a common instruction in sensitive cases. In 2016, citizen journalist Lu Yuyu was arrested for his work documenting labor and land disturbances across the country. He has continued to face harassment since his 2020 release.
China’s recent success in rural poverty alleviation is a point of great pride for the central government. During last week’s contentious China-U.S. dialogues in Anchorage, Alaska, Yang Jiechi cited China’s “full victory” over poverty as a model that the United States should learn from. The project that purportedly triggered the villager’s murderous outburst was seemingly related to the creation of “ancient towns” that bolster tourism, a staple of the program. ”Rural vitalization”, the poverty alleviation campaign’s successor, has stressed land reform, especially facilitating outside businesses’ efforts to rent land in villages. Bloomberg News quoted China’s agriculture minister on the duality of rural land, which is an engine for economic growth when sold and a stabilizing element when held onto by villagers:
China will push forward rural land reforms in a cautious manner as it tries to balance bolstering food security, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, with economic growth.
The remarks were made by agriculture minister Tang Renjian after China issued a plan over the weekend pledging to boost “rural revitalization.” The policy document addresses a raft of measures, including the transfer and leasing of rural land, which is a core issue in helping rural residents become more prosperous as their incomes currently lag behind urban peers.
“On rural land issues, we cannot simply calculate the economic returns,” Tang said in an article posted on the ministry’s website. It’s important for farmers to have a house and piece of land as this has played an important role in stabilizing the countryside, especially during the pandemic when 30 million migrant farmers were unable to travel to cities to find work, he added. [Source]