Palaces For The People
Sunday, October 12, 2003
sunspot.net - news: "China farmers' choice: suicide or financial ruin
Corruption: A government program hatched in far-away Beijing drove impoverished farmers to take their own lives.
By Gady Epstein
Sun Foreign Staff
Originally published October 12, 2003
YONGQUAN VILLAGE, China - In a place where peasants grow just enough food to get by, the mulberry saplings beginning to take root in the mountain slopes of this farming village have become an issue of life and death.
The saplings were planted to firm the ground and, ultimately, help curb the landslides and floods that have visited misery on farmers for centuries, from here to the Yangtze River. But the trees have disturbed the order of life so delicately balanced on this shifting soil.
In the span of just five days this summer in this village of about 1,000 people, three farmers attempted suicide, two of them successfully, becoming casualties of Beijing's reforestation program and of the local officials who brought it here.
The farmland-to-forest program looked to be a fair deal for farmers: It promised them modest grants of food and money for planting trees instead of crops on the steepest slopes, where farming is most difficult and the danger of erosion highest.
But in this village nearly 600 miles southwest of Beijing, high in the Qinling Mountains of Shaanxi Province, one of China's poorest, things didn't work out as planned.
Li Liwen, too hungry to pull all his crops from between the trees and too poor to pay a $65 fine, bought 18 cents worth of pesticide on credit so he could try poisoning himself to death. Li Xiang, a village official, drank enough pesticide to put an end to the financial and political pressures he endured because of the tree-planting program.
And Chen Yingfu"