Land Seizures Fueling Unrest in China, Party Responds by Prohibiting Domestic Media Reports

October 12, 2004

In a front-page article on October 5, the Washington Post reported on the growth of unrest in rural China stemming from illegal and abusive land seizures. According to the article, the Ministry of Land and Resources disciplined officials involved in more than 168,000 illegal land deals last year, and Chinese scholars are warning of “turbulence” if the government does not control the problem. In a recent interview with Southern Weekend, rural development specialist Yu Jianrong of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences echoed such concerns, noting that property rights infringements have replaced high tax burdens as the primary focus of peasant activism.

The Party has responded to the growing unrest in part by curtailing domestic reporting on land abuses. According to an October 7 story in the South China Morning Post (subscription required), the Party Propaganda Department has issued a directive prohibiting the media (including Web sites that specialize in exposing local corruption) from reporting on land seizures. In June 2004, China’s State Council had warned media organizations to pay attention to social stability and avoid “inducing and intensifying contradictions” when reporting on forced evictions. The new Party directive creates a full news blackout on the issue. Ironically, by prohibiting domestic reports on land corruption, the Party may end up intensifying the very instability that it is attempting to prevent with the ban. Chinese media have helped to expose some local land abuses in recent years. With such reporting now banned, local officials will have an even freer hand to engage in the corrupt practices that are causing the instability.

In another sign of government concern over the problem of land seizures, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate announced a new campaign last week that is aimed at curtailing human rights abuses (story in Chinese). The SPP has identified abuses related to land requisitions and forced evictions as two of the top four problems it will focus on in the new campaign.