"When they tried to take our people away, the villagers were furious, and they began to surround the police and attack them with stones and whatever they could find," said one 24-year-old resident. "We said they couldn't take our people away because they didn't prove their identity or show us any arrest warrants."
The clash lasted about 45 minutes, and police left the village with four people in custody. Five others were arrested outside the village, residents said.
Residents of Shijiahe are treated at a clinic after clashes with police sparked by the confiscation of local farmland.
(Photos Provided A Resident Of Shijiahe)
A police official in Zhengzhou refused to discuss what happened in Shijiahe, saying, "All I can tell you is that we followed the orders of the city government and the city party committee."
Li Guiling, an official with the party committee, said the city had briefed Beijing about the confrontation, and both provincial and central government authorities have barred Chinese news media from reporting the incident. "The farmers were troublemakers, and they were deliberately being provocative," he said.
But in a sign that local officials recognize the shootings could further inflame residents, police have released all but one of the protest leaders and Zhengzhou's party chief visited Shijiahe, promising to investigate the land-seizure allegations. Other party officials visited wounded villagers in hospitals and presented them with gifts of rice, flour and medicine.
Villagers said they weren't satisfied. "They just kept saying that we shouldn't appeal to the provincial government, that we shouldn't disrupt public order and that it was all our fault," the 24-year-old resident said.
There have been relatively few cases of Chinese police shooting at unarmed crowds, even with rubber bullets, in recent years. In one exception, police raided a village in China's Jiangxi province in April 2001 and opened fire on a crowd of farmers refusing to pay illegal taxes, killing two and injuring 18.
Murray Scot Tanner, a political scientist at the RAND Corporation who studies Chinese police tactics, said the raid on Shijiahe violated recent directives by Beijing for police to use less violent and less confrontational methods to defuse protests and prevent them from spreading.
"The thrust that police have been putting forward in recent years is to try to solve the problems that protesters are worried about," he said. "In this case, it sounds as though the police in Zhengzhou weren't interested in solving the problem. . . . Going in with that many forces in the middle of the night, this was an effort to intimidate the village."
"But they've probably made the villagers even angrier, and that's what they're supposed to avoid."
Researchers Jin Ling and Zhang Jing contributed to this report.