Taking on China's corruption


The BBC has obtained secretly filmed video evidence that indicates a Chinese Communist Party official paid for villagers in China to be beaten up because they were refusing to move off land earmarked for development. The video also shows police refusing to prosecute the official for any serious crime.

The incident happened in the city of Weifang in Shandong province late last year. It is just one of thousands of land disputes involving local Communist officials in China every year. You can watch our report with the secretly filmed footage here.

One man's story of alleged corruption within the local Communist Party

China's Communist leaders worry that corruption within the ranks of the Communist Party is one of the greatest threats they face. Our visit to Weifang indicates how deep it goes and how hard it is to tackle in what is effectively a one-party state.

As he addressed the thousands of delegates at the opening of the National People's Congress on Monday, Premier Wen Jiabao promised to do more about corruption.

"We will resolutely rectify the problems of laws not being fully enforced, of lawbreakers not being prosecuted, and law enforcement being uncivilised and corrupt," he said. It was one of the points in his speech where he was applauded.

The premier went on: "We will work harder to build clean government. We will fight corruption and give a high priority to solving serious problems that the people are resentful about."

Secret video
Tan Hong Guang Mr Tan said that local officials did not want him to publicise the case

Tan Hong Guang is not just resentful, he is incensed. He is a farmer and part-time welder from Weifang city, in the eastern province of Shandong. His family owns a tiny patch of land just three mu (0.5 acres, 0.2 hectares) in size, where they used to grow wheat and then planted fruit trees.

He is in dispute with local Communist Party bosses who are trying to take his fields, together with land belonging to many others in his village, to build a new business district.

The local Communist authorities and the police do not want him to publicise the case. But Mr Tan was so outraged by what happened to his family when they resisted the party that he began recording it all on film. He wanted to meet and show us his footage.

It begins with images shot in the dark. A small, silver van is standing in a field, its windows have just been smashed in, the glass shattered. A torch lights up an old man lying on the ground, moaning. It is Mr Tan's father. Lying next to him is Mr Tan's brother, also badly injured.

"My dad and my brother were here guarding the gate to our fields," Mr Tan explained. "On the evening of 5 November last year, thugs hired by our village's Communist Party secretary and other local leaders came and attacked them."

"My brother was inside a tent. The thugs cut it to pieces. My father was inside his car. They started smashing it and when he tried to get out, they turned on him. His hands were cut while he was trying to protect his head, and bones broken. My brother had cuts to his back. Bones in his spine were fractured."

Mr Tan took us to see the tiny, muddy patch of land at the heart of the dispute. He was nervous and afraid in case local officials or the gang who attacked his family spotted us.

Start Quote

The government is hiring thugs to kill us - we can't live like this”

End Quote Mr Tan Farmer

Today, sitting abandoned in the field, is the smashed-up silver van, and next to it a small, red, three-wheel car which belonged to his father. It was also trashed during the attack.

Shopping malls

Gesturing at the fields, Mr Tan said: "This whole area is designated for business use. They are going to build shopping malls here, things like that. Just in our village, there are over 100 families involved in this dispute."

Standing there, you can see why the land is valuable. Just across a busy road is a brand-new local government office. It is huge, white and gleaming, many stories high. Next to it is a new police station. There is a poster showing the large concrete and glass buildings that are planned for the business district on Mr Tan's fields.

Weifang has a population of a million and it is developing fast. Giant new office towers and blocks of flats are going up all around the city. The local government profits handsomely from taking farmland and selling it on for building.

China is projected to have 100 cities of this size in the coming years and in many, there are disputes over land. It means around the country, there are tens of thousands of incidents of what is euphemistically called "unrest" every year, and land seizure lie at the heart of many of them.

Mr Tan and the villagers say the compensation the authorities are offering them is far too low. After it is developed, they say their land will be worth around 100 times what they are being offered.

But it is the way his family were assaulted that has really angered Mr Tan. He went to police to ask why the men who organised the attack were not facing serious charges, why his village's Communist Party boss was detained but then released.

Gang attack
File photo: police in Weifang Mr Tan managed to take secret footage of police intimidation

On Mr Tan's secret footage, a local policeman admits he knows that the village party secretary met with another local leader, and they then telephoned a known local gangster. The policeman says he also knows the village party secretary paid the thug 20,000 renminbi ($3,100, £2,000) to get a gang of men to attack Mr Tan's family.

The gangster is now in police custody. But the party secretary is back in charge of the village, a case pending against both men.

Mr Tan demanded to know why they were not facing serious criminal charges, like assault and attempted murder, and why the party secretary had been released.

On film, the policeman tells him that the two men will only face the minor charge of "picking a quarrel and making trouble", that is all that is appropriate in this case.

"The government's actions here are bad. How can we accept this?" Mr Tan said. "The government is hiring thugs to kill us. We can't live like this. I am going to Beijing to find someone higher up, because here, at the local level, they refuse to solve our problem."

But Mr Tan never made it to Beijing to press his case. Shortly after he spoke to us, he was picked up by the police, warned not to leave Weifang, and is now under constant watch by the authorities, the police protecting the local party from wider scrutiny.

It is an all too typical tale in China today. When local government, the police, the courts and the media all serve the Communist Party, there are clear conflicts of interest. Accountability is hard to enforce, and corruption hard to root out.

Damian Grammaticas Article written by Damian Grammaticas Damian Grammaticas China correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 22.


    Please stop criticising "western media" for "attacking Chinese foreign and business interests". I am Chinese and staying in China right now. I am wonder howing your western media-resenting idea came up to your mind unless you were seriously brain-washed by Chinese authority. How about Chinese media? Do they speak for their people? They dare not report truths about many "sensitive" issues due to censorship. Give yourself a break and face the music.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    China is the first to admit that it has human rights issues as well as corruption, & that it is working to resolve these issues.
    Personally, I cannot feel that the British did much better to indigenous India or the Americans to indigenous in the United States, or Australia to its indigenous people. Injustice should be addressed; I hope in Mr. Tan's case that it will be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.


    Yes you are right, but it only takes one greedy farmer and everything is gone down the toilet.

    And yes the local govt and the developers are the bad guys here and all over China but the farmers are getting too greedy.

    There was a show on a village White Horse in China, I see the mistakes these farmers are doing, thinking in money terms mostly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    The high-speed train project speaks well of how serious and rampant the corruption is in China. China has invested more than 100 U$ billion since 2005 on it and the Gov.had long been boasting of the modern high-tech train developed and made by Chinese companies. After the minister of China's railway department got arrested due to corruption, the high-speed train turned out to be pieced together by imported parts at high prices from Germany,France, Canada and Japan. A wash basin pruchase at U$10,000 ,a single seat at U$4,000. Most parts of the high prices gone to his own pocket as commision.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    "China doesn't have colonies to squeeze foreigners' land and materials to boost development."

    Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia. All have non-Chinese populations, their own languages and cultures and were invaded and conquered by China. They're colonies. But as we can see the CCP is pretty indiscriminate about who they exploit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    @10. FatMao

    Hello, I am in fact not British-born, nor in China, nor rich in anyway, nor a kid.
    You have misread my posting, I mentioned first that such articles are worthy.
    I was suggesting that western media should stop attacking Chinese foreign and business interest indiscrimately, and should publicise more on social injustices within China.
    Take a deep breath, at the way things are going with the anti-China foreign press, there will be another trade war and serious global recession soon.
    Postings and your misreadings will be irrelevant when bills become unpayable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    @15. freegun

    Well said. It eats me up that China boasts of its massive reserves of foreign cash but doesn't invest in its people, bad schools, pathetic health care and corrupt officials and corrupt supporters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    This is just too common across the great China. The Gov. tend to turn blind eyes on such cases. The current corruption issue is just like a "a hard nut to crack", none of top Chinese leaders would face the crisis. They are now in the period of power transition so they hope to pass the problems to the leaders of next generation, and that will happen by the end of this year. Too sad for Chinese people! Corruption is too deeply embedded among officials of all levels in the communist party. Just too rotten! Regardless of people's misery, the authorities just do anything at will.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    A man defending his land speaks to the soul of every culture. Shame on anyone who seeks to trivialise or relativise it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    @11. jerry

    Not true. It's unfair that the poor in China don't have support in their own country, only in the foreign press do they have a voice. Good! Shame on China and those so called 'patriotic' Chinese!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Its a Communist State .... all land is owned by the State to do with as they wish. No human rights, no civil authority can act over the communist party. Why people forget this is beyond me, is the Han colony in occupied Tibet not evidence enough of how a communist government acts. They are the direct successors of Chairman Mao, and no one should forget this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    As a local Chinese youth,I feel sorry for the common unjustice occured at home,but much sadder I feel about is that you Western journalists always report the negetive affairs happened in China exaggeratedly and modified it as no democracy,no freedom,no justice exsists in China.Frankly,we face a lot of social problems and struggle in it with great difficulty.However,each surging power has such kind of issue,happened in different nations with different terms.But everything is changing into better, from which the Chinese people benefits a lot.So,please have a break and report objectively.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.


    Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US and Western allies have been keen to conduct China-bashing, indiscriminately attacking Chinese national and international interests (eg. Syria veto etc.). Such journalistic behaviour have diverted attention of Chinese youths to immediate problems at home.

    The article is true, at least that's how my family has experienced it!

    I'm guessing either you're a BBC or one of China's rich, in which case your opinion counts for nothing, just another spoilt kid from the corrupt 5%. Embarrassing!

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    This is the kind of journalism worthy of the BBC.

    The Chinese government (local and national), have a duty to contain widespread land-grabbing, corruption and thuggery, this is indisputable and will evoke a great deal of support amongst indigenous Chinese.

    Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US and Western allies have been keen to conduct China-bashing, indiscriminately attacking Chinese national and international interests (eg. Syria veto etc.). Such journalistic behaviour have diverted attention of Chinese youths to immediate problems at home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.


    In China, the Chinese farmers hear that a toilet or an outhouse in Vancouver, Canada can cost up to $800,000.00 to buy.

    So they now want more money for their worthless farmland.

    And the top 5% in Chinese society aren't greedy, how?

    The poor in China need a fair deal, they shouldn't be forced from their land by the big business supported by government thugs!
    That's what democrazy brings to the new China now, greed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Being in the process of becoming a fully industrialised nation, China is bound to see such land transformation, but it must be done legally. Under comminist rule, there is no place for corruption and lobbying. Anyone involved must be brought to justice.

    The story would have been sadder, if China had tried a slave system to industrialised its nation, as certain developed nations seemed to have done in the past.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    In China, the Chinese farmers hear that a toilet or an outhouse in Vancouver, Canada can cost up to $800,000.00 to buy.

    So they now want more money for their worthless farmland.

    That's what democrazy brings to the new China now, greed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    In West Bengal state in India, Calcutta it's capital, local Marxist Govt. fell, which was democratically elected, when wished to take lands from some small landowners for big industry, which was however a right decision for job creation and revenues, but people's power were stronger than the state administration or Govt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    It's about time Chinese people were honest, it isn't the Chinese Government that's oppressive but Chinese Culture, look at the 2 year old girl run over by a van and ignored by 19 passersby!

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Sad man, sad issue, I have full sympathy for their unjustness. On the other hand, unlike UK, China doesn't have colonies to squeeze foreigners' land and materials to boost development. So, China has to squeeze its own people. For every individual man and case, this is sad, but for overall development, this is a necessary cost for social changes. Public criticism and individual endurance are both important to solve this issue. Criticism will bring unjust into spotlight to restrict its complete out of control. Individual endurance will improve China into a new power. China is in UK's 1800 now.


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