Recent economic liberalization and expansion has brought China face to face with a new issue that threatens to undermine much of the progress made over the last five years – corruption. In November, the Los Angeles Times reported on the estimated one million illegal land seizures that took place in 2005 (“Land Seizures Raise Ire in China,” November 6, pg. C1). Officials continue to offer no or substandard compensation for land in rural China as part of the massive government land grab spurred by booming economic growth. Recent rural acquisitions led to the deaths of 10 to 20 villagers in Dongzhou on December 6. The Washington Post today commented on the situation in the nearby village of Shanwei, where after months of protesting, the villagers have been cowed by the violence in Dongzhou.
The peasants also suspected corrupt Shanwei officials were pocketing some of the compensation funds. The widespread conviction that local officials are corrupt has become a leading cause of rural unrest across China… The village accountant, Huang Jinhe, was found dead in September. Without proof, many Dongzhou residents said they considered his death a murder because he was backing demands that the village accounts be opened for an explanation of how the compensation money was spent.
Shanwei residents had strong economic reasons for opposing government officials, including unfair compensation for land seizures and the destruction of a nearby lake that fueled the village’s fishing industry. This situation is yet another in which a stronger economic base could encourage the institutionalization of democratic practices throughout the country. How long will China continue to develop liberal economic practices without putting in place the proper safeguards for enforcing government cooperation?