For the last several days, the Chinese village of Wukan has been sealed off by police and paramilitary forces seeking to quash (or at least hide) protests against a massive land seizure that has displaced local residents. The local government, which seized over six square miles of land and sold it for over $150 million, is now facing an unprecedented level of resistance. How widespread are these land grabs?
A 2004 article in the journal Current History suggests that this practice, often led by local governments in conjunction with real estate developers, has expanded along with China’s economic growth and urbanization. The number of incidents exploded in 2003: In the month of November alone, there were over 168,000 cases of illegal land seizure—“twice as many,” the article’s authors note, “as in the entire previous year.” Between 1996 and 2003, some 6.7 million hectares (over 16 million acres) of farmland were taken. Overall, since the late 1980s, about forty million farmers have lost most or all of their land from such seizures. In other words, while these ongoing protests are an uncommon occurrence, the grievance fueling them is anything but.