Eleven Guangdong defendants convicted of sabotaging construction sites and blocking factory gates in the course of protests over the misappropriation of communal farmland had their appeal rejected by the Foshan Intermediate People’s Court on October 25, 2007, according to information obtained by Dui Hua.

Among the convicted residents of Xichong Village, located 62 miles (100 km) northwest of Hong Kong in the heart of South China’s booming Pearl River Delta, were Li Dezai (李德仔) and three other members of the village committee, the “self-governing” representative body elected by local residents to communicate village interests to government officials. The village elections held in 2005 had followed a lengthy and contentious campaign period, with a central issue being controversy surrounding past land deals.

If elected, Li Dezai promised to secure compensation for fellow villagers who had lost land—a pledge that ran into repeated obstacles after he was voted in as head of the village committee and went so far as to create a land survey team to investigate transactions, permits, and agreements tied to land use and construction in Xichong. Farmland in the village had been developed by a company with ties to local officials higher up in the government hierarchy, and with whom factories and other enterprises had signed contracts. Even after finding improprieties with numerous contracts, the village committee representatives lacked leverage to negotiate new deals favorable to Xichong villagers and instead resorted to direct action.

For his role in the Xichong land protests, Li Dezai was sentenced in August 2007 to five years’ imprisonment on charges of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order.” Seven other defendants received sentences of between 18 months and four years, and three others received suspended sentences.

Conflicts over the ownership of land have increased in recent years, especially in areas such as the Pearl River Delta that have seen rapid economic development and the influx of investment capital. In acknowledging the existence of the problem, the Chinese government has encouraged resolution of these conflicts through the courts. However, many ordinary Chinese do not yet trust the judicial system to rule on their behalf in disputes with entrenched bases of local power especially considering that local judges’ salaries are paid from local government budgets.

Xichong Village’s conflicts over land were the focus of Dui Hua’s most recent volume of Selected Decisions from Chinese People’s Courts, part of the foundation’s Occasional Publications series. It is the first published in connection with Dui Hua’s research on “mass incidents” in China.