As Chinese Farmers Fight for Homes, Suicide Is Ultimate Protest

Besides the self-immolations, farmers have killed themselves by other means
to protest land expropriation. One Chinese nongovernmental organization, the
Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, reported that in addition to 6
self-immolations last year, 15 other farmers killed themselves. Others die when
they refuse to leave their property: last year, a farmer in the southern city
of Changsha who would not yield was run over by a steamroller, and last month,
a 4-year-old girl in Fujian Province was struck and killed by a bulldozer while
her family tried to stop an attempt to take their land.

China, the timeline for moving 250 million rural residents into cities by 2025
is so rapid and far-reaching that it is raising concerns that some people will
be left behind.

Amid the turmoil, the government is debating new
policies to promote urbanization. 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.

In the past, many farmers chose to leave their land for
better-paying jobs in the city. Many still do, but farmers are increasingly
thrown off their land by officials eager to find new sources of economic
growth. The tensions are especially acute on the edge of big Chinese cities.
After having torn down the historic centers of most Chinese cities and sold the
land to developers, officials now target the rural areas on the outskirts of
cities like Chengdu.

But such plans are opposed by local farmers. Many do
not want to leave the land, believing they can earn more in agriculture than in
factory work. Farmers on the outskirts of Chengdu, near the workshop where Tang
Fuzhen committed suicide, say they can easily earn several hundred dollars a
month, pay that dwarfs government compensation offers.

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