Monday, September 9, 2013

Chinese farmers resist urbanization with protest, including suicide

The latest installment in the NYT series on China's push to accelerate urbanization appears today.  The headline is "Picking Death Over Eviction."   Ian Johnson reports:
Over the past five years, at least 39 farmers have resorted to this drastic form of protest. The figures, pieced together from Chinese news reports and human rights organizations, are a stark reminder of how China’s new wave of urbanization is at times a violent struggle between a powerful state and stubborn farmers — a top-down project that is different from the largely voluntary migration of farmers to cities during the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s.
Johnson reports that farmers have means other than self-immolation to kill themselves.  As for numbers, one Chinese NGO, the Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, reported 21 farmer suicides last year.  Others have been killed when they refuse to leave their property, taking literal stands against demolition equipment.  

Johnson also situates these suicides in the wider Chinese context, in which suicide has long been a form of protest.  But he contrasts the Chinese government's response to these rural self-immolations with its response to those by Tibetans protesting Chinese rule.  Corinna-Barbara Francis, a China specialist with Amnesty International highlights the difference:  
It is striking how differently the two are treated.  They are trying to cover up the issue in the countryside.
Meanwhile, Johnson reports, the Chinese government may be altering its development path in response to the suicides.
A plan to speed up urbanization was supposed to have been unveiled earlier this year, but it has been delayed over concerns that the move to cities is already stoking social tensions. New measures are also being contemplated to increase rural residents’ property rights.
Don't miss the embedded videos in this story, one of which highlights the sense of displacement--and economic distress--experienced by farmers forced to re-locate to cities.  

I wrote about earlier installments in Johnson's series here and here.  

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