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Christopher Heurlin

In early 2004 half a dozen farmers, members of an informal “land protection team” (护地队), occupied a “sentry post” around the clock on a disputed parcel of land in Linhai, a county outside of Taizhou, Zhejiang province. As an old cadre who was part of the team put it, “before we used to use our hoes to plant the soil, now we rely on them to defend our land.” The villagers had been locked in a series of confrontations with local authorities over a plan to take 386.4 mu of land for a local handcrafted art company. The villagers had attacked a street office cadre who came to persuade them to accept a land taking, mobilized 150 farmers to demonstrate in front of the street office building—shutting it down for six hours—and mobilized hundreds of farmers to fight off a forcible land taking ordered by the local court, a clash that resulted in dozens of injuries. While reporting of such conflicts was largely censored in the official “open” media, by the mid-2000s coverage of protests like this was a recurrent feature of the “internal reference” media—a category of publications whose circulation was largely restricted to government officials. A wave of land-related protests was surging throughout the province, a marked shift from only a decade earlier, when such conflicts were relatively rare. The emergence of protests such as those in Linhai pose a number of questions: Why were farmers able to mobilize on such a large scale in the mid-2000s? What kinds of grievances did farmers report? Why was mobilization relatively high in some cities like Taizhou, while other cities were relatively stable?