In America, we call it "eminent domain." In China, they call it a Wednesday. Or whatever day the government comes and decides to take your house so they can build a freeway across what used to be your living room.
Yang Youde was a 56-year-old rice farmer who one day got the word that the government wanted to develop the land on which his farm stood. He wasn't having it. He'd heard the stories about other regular people being forced off their land. Yang wasn't about to become a victim.
Before the Chinese government and the hired agents of the land developers could force him out, he set out to create a system of defenses that would keep them in fear of coming onto his property. Using old stovepipes and fireworks, he built a real-life cannon that could fire rockets up to 100 yards.
"My goal isn't to hurt anyone, I just want to solve my problem," Yang told al-Jazeera. "If I get hounded out, I'm left with nothing. What's my future except to steal, rob, or beg?
In February 2010, they came for him determined to violently force him away. He fired rockets at 30 crews until he ran out of ammo. After a physical altercation, the local police stepped in and forced the developers to come back some other time.
Yang made more ammo. And a giant watchtower. He also converted a push cart into a mobile rocket launcher.
From that high vantagepoint, he was able to hold off 100 demolition crew workers. This time, when the police came, they came for Yang.
Yang was offered the U.S. equivalent of $19,000 for his Wuhan-adjacent farm. But he had a nice parcel of land with a fishpond on it. He knew he couldn't fight the government forever, but he wanted at least a fair price. After all, his contract for the land didn't run out for another 19 years.
And he said the Chinese government's compensation policies entitled him to five times the offered amount. The old farmer had been growing watermelons and cotton on the land for some 40 years.
When all was said and done, Chinese state media reported that Yang was offered upward of $110,000 for his land, which he eventually agreed to. According to al-Jazeera, Yang was also held in jail for 51 days and tortured for his famous stand.
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