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Why Chinese farmers commit suicide?
Xiao De
11/4/2003

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In a village situated deep in the mountains, after a work group's (see note below) enforcement of a policy of reafforestation of farmland, two farmers committed suicide by poisoning themselves. The victims, two young farmers in the prime of life, leave behind their distraught wives and distressed children.

This was reported in a recent CCTV program titled “News Investigation.” The program also showed the callousness of some members in the work group, the buck-passing of the local government leaders and the promises given by upper level government leaders that were never realized.

The farmers shown on the program lead a difficult life faced with the whims and fancies of local government leaders. First they received instructions from the work group permitting them to plant tobacco. To make a living, they planted a little in the land designated for reafforestation. But later on they were fined for doing that, and they even lost their plants, thereby losing out twice. Li Xiang, the local leader, could not bear the disservice done to his fellow villagers by this painful contradiction by the work group, so he committed suicide by taking poison. Even worse, despite the appeals of Li’s wife, the callous members of the work group shirked accountability for the farmers’ plight. After colluding with the village cadre and the police station, they managed to shift the blame onto another villager, Chen Qifu, who committed suicide soon after.

Heartbreaking as these events are, the entire incident is representative of the situation of the villages and their inhabitants in rural China. It is always the farmers – society’s weakest class of people, forever enduring humiliation, living in hardship under the rule of local officials who try to hoodwink the masses! Especially when I hear those nasty-looking local county leaders unabashedly using stereotyped expressions like “intruding upon the interests of the masses is no small matter,” it makes me feel nauseous.

The police station is the most grassroots level of the police system and most often, the village police station plays the most disgraceful role. Officials collude with bandits, shield one another, plunder the flesh and blood of the people and live off the local common people. The words used to describe the Kuomintang during its heyday are still appropriate in today’s situation. In some ways, it is even worse than the practices in the old society.

The cities are gradually awakening, yet the villages are still in a hundred years' slumber. China is not deficient in laws but lacks the ability to strictly enforce the laws. It does not lack thinking cadres, but is deficient in cadres who truly enforce consistent ideologies. The cadres are not lacking in knowledge of the law or culture, but lack the mechanisms to effectively restrain their actions. Farmers are not lacking in education. On the contrary, it is the cadres who collectively need serious education and supervision.

Members of the work group and police station officers related to the suicide cases above were either fired from their jobs or removed from party membership. But does the responsibility end there? The fatcats act indignant on TV but don’t they have even the tiniest bit of “leadership responsibility”? (To me, those men are definitely not as innocent as they seem.)

Of course the law cannot proceed based on appearances alone but who is ultimately forcing the farmers to commit suicide? Local officials abuse their powers and plunder the farmers. It is also possible they use torture during questioning and in forcing confessions. But who gave them the power to do this? If this is not eliminated from the system, then it can only be a case of treating the head when the head hurts and treating the leg when the leg hurts.

Note: A workgroup normally refers to a group of people from higher level government who ensure that policies are executed accordingly. They normally wield considerable power, even being able to terminate the job of the local leader and the use of force to enact policy is not uncommon. The local leader is thus coerced into ensuring that their requests are fulfilled. Although they hold all the power, if mistakes are made they use this power to shift responsibility onto others who are consequently punished, leaving their reputations unblemished.

Adapted and translated from “Xiao De World.”


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