BEIJING // Armed police have surrounded a village in southern China, cutting off food and water supplies to 20,000 people, a move aimed to quell protests over land seizures in the latest eruption of rural anger that is eroding the Communist Party's rule.
Hundreds of residents in the fishing village of Wukan held a defiant march yesterday over the seizures and the death of a local man villagers say was beaten to death by police.
Xue Jinbo, 42, died on Sunday after being arrested on suspicion of organising protests that erupted in September. Police said it was a heart attack, but his family said his body showed signs of beating.
"This is a very unusual event because the people of the village, they cooperate [with each other] very well," said Ting Wai, a professor and political analyst at the Hong Kong Baptist University.
"You can even say that the village as a whole is against the government. This is unusual because in the past, no matter what happened, the government, as well as the Communist Party, can control the whole situation."
Local officials have promised to investigate allegations that corrupt officials have seized villagers' property, sold it to developers and then failed to pay the villagers what the property is worth.
Authorities say they have stopped development of the farmland at the centre of the dispute.
Police were deployed when local officials were thrown out of Wukan.
The county mayor has said authorities will crack down on those inciting protests.
As China's economy booms, land is being sold by local officials accused of kickbacks, causing widespread protests.
Compensation is often a fraction of the real value.
Widespread use of the internet and social media means residents hear about disputes elsewhere more easily and are better informed about their rights.
Barry Sautman, an associate professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said land seizures had been "the biggest issue ... for some years".
"The central authorities are well attuned to the potential dangers of unrest that involves peasants resisting land seizures, because there could be widespread sympathy around the country," he said.
"It's not so much that each individual incident will result in some danger to the central or local authorities, but in terms of regime legitimacy they have to worry that they might be seen as not sufficiently supportive."
He said residents often tended to blame local officials rather than the national government.
Experts have said the central authorities have struggled to ensure local officials follow laws. "It causes a lot of social tensions when these problems cannot be solved. I'm afraid it will become a big bomb for the future of China," said Mr Ting.