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Protests by Chinese Farmers Against Government Increasing

Last week a Chinese farmer handed over an extraordinary videotape to a Western reporter showing deadly clashes between Chinese farmers and unidentified men who were breaking up a protest. VOA's Carol Pearson reports that, despite government disapproval, these kinds of protests are becoming more common in China.

Villagers say the men who attacked these farmers with guns, pipes, and shovels did so without any warning. The farmers say the government took their land to build a venue for the 2008 Olympics without paying them for it, and that's why they were protesting.

They contract with the local government to use it. The local government retains the right to revoke the lease.

Eric Heginbotham, a China expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., says protests against local governments are becoming increasingly common. "The protests in China are becoming common because there is a lack of other means to address the grievances that are taking place."

He says the loss of farmland is a major issue in China. Mr. Heginbotham says that as China's economy has boomed, urban areas have become wealthier but rural areas are still poor. "Fifteen years ago, the average difference between urban areas and rural, was something like 1.8 to 1. Now it's 3 to 1. And if you take into account taxes and social benefits, then the difference is more like 4 or 5 to 1, and the difference is growing at a rapid clip."

Some of the farmers lose their livelihood as a result of the land transfers. Mr. Higginbotham says unemployed farmers and their families often move to urban areas where they try to eke out a living and in the process are creating a new class of urban poor without rights to social services, medical care or education.