Peasant Autonomy
go to the previous page     Nederlands     go to the next page
Story 139

Shandong Province, China – 1986

The garlic rebellion

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Jacques Beaulieu)

Shandong Province, China.

Gao Yang is not the type to be a troublemaker or firebrand. On the contrary, he is rather fearful. He is a hard-working peasant, a father who is fond of his little daughter, and a helpful neighbour. He grumbles about the government the same as anyone else. So what is he doing there in the square in front of the regional board office between these shouting peasants with their carts full of garlic?

When Gao Yong couldn't sell his garlic at the cold-storage building, he didn't know what to do. Just like all the other peasants he urgently needed money. When the peasants marched into the city, he went with them. The caravan of garlic carts went to the regional board office.
“Down with the bureaucrats and other parasites,” shouts a peasant. He stays on top of his cart and waves his fist. “Zhong Weimin, come out!” Gao Yang hears himself shout together with the other peasants.
Zhong Weimin, the chairman of the regional board, doesn't show up. Though an old man, a gatekeeper, appears running. He tries to put a heavy chain on the lock of the beautiful decorated wrought iron gate. Furious peasants spit at him and throw bunches of garlic. Quickly, he runs back.
“Let these old morons eat the garlic themselves!” shouts the same peasant as he throws one bunch of garlic after another through the gate. Gao Yang wants to run away. Soon it will get out of hand, and the police will arrive. But he is stuck with his cart and old donkey. He cannot move forward or backward. He breaks into a sweat.

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: 周 浩)

Shandong Province, China.

Peasants behind him start throwing stones, boards, and paving stones against the gate. Others hit the lock with a pole. Slowly the gate bends and swings open. The peasants behind Gao Yang press him forward. He doesn't want to go inside, but he is taken along. Once inside the region board office, he looks surprised at the expensive carpets, beautiful lamps, and the big paintings. Immense anger begins overpowering him.

They would get fifty fen a pound the region board had promised them last year. The board had enlarged the garlic area. There was a big harvest, and soon the cold-storage buildings were so full they could fit no more garlic. The sales contracts were officially nullified. The peasants had to find out their own way.
With so much supply, the price of the garlic had plummeted immediately. First to twenty fen a pound, and later on to only a meagre three fen. The peasants wanted a solution from the region board. But no one would listen.

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Felibrilu)

Shandong Province, China.

Gao Yang stands in a room with a shiny wooden desk. Peasants around him pull the books and folders off the shelves, throwing them with force to the floor. Others pull down the curtains. Gao Yang sees a little pot with a cactus. Still furious about the great luxury before him, he throws it through the window, which shatters into a thousand pieces. Then he picks up a bowl with fine goldfishes and slings it through another window. When he looks out, he sees the fishes squirming for breath on the paving stones outside. That sobers him.
When Gao Yang glances toward the broken gate, he sees police officers arrive in bright, white shirts with clubs in their hands. He wants to run away.


The Chinese author Mo Yan portrays in his novel The Garlic Ballads (1988) the peasants' life. Since the Cultural Revolution their lives have improved, but there is still a lot of poverty in the villages and corruption is rampant.
The book also tells the story of a tragic love affair and of a blind singer who is not afraid to criticize the government.

Go to:
= the next page: Sana, a witch? - a village in Burkina Faso – 1989, story 140.
= the Table of contents, story 139.