There have been many articles in the NYTimes recently about the simmering rural unrest in China, and the trepidation it causes the nation’s leaders. With many Chinese cities seeing unprecedented economic boom times, the land in and around them has become very valuable as developers scramble to make millions with new real estate. Last week, the Times had a piece about a rural city, formerly more of a village before the intense economic growth in the region, and the protests brought on by the locals’ sense that they had been cheated out of their land. They protested, and were put down violently.The police, the state, the economic establishment, all seem to be arrayed against simple and uneducated farmers who, for some strange reason, are reluctant to give up the land that they own or have had rights to for many years. This in the land where urban intellectuals, in a past epoch, were ‘sent down’ to work in the mud of the rural farms to learn true Chinese communist values. Now that those rural denizens have notions of their own about rights and values, they have become inconvenient.
It all seems very reminiscent of the European enclosure movement, about which I have written before. [Who Is this Man?] People with resources and power screw the workers of the land to get the real estate to turn it into fungible wealth – flocks of wool bearing sheep, or apartment houses and factory buildings. A hundred years from now, the descendents of these shysters and ruthless operators will look back on them and talk of how they reached their pinnacles of success through hard work and superior virtue. Well, hard work, yes, but of a particular kind, and with a lot of theft mixed in. Same story, different century. It’s like seeing history in replay mode, if you’re paying attention.