For three years farmers in Fuyou village had been fighting the government-backed developer who turned their land into a giant construction site.
China's rapid urbanisation has been driven primarily by the pull of higher wages in the city, and the opportunity to escape a life of back-breaking farm work. For three decades, cheap labour from the countryside has driven China's "economic miracle", as the nation's premier, Li Keqiang, acknowledged in an address in March.
The rural population has dropped from 80 per cent of the total in 1980 to less than half now. Its contribution to the economy has shrunk even faster, to 9 per cent of gross domestic product from 30 per cent in 1980 — making the cities even more attractive.
But there is an uglier "push" factor too. One-fifth of China's migrants have had no choice but to hit the road, because their land is gone.
Their numbers are staggering. A 2011 report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences found that between 40m and 50m Chinese migrants, from a total of 250m, were landless due to expropriation. Another 3m people would lose their land every year, CASS estimated.
Officially, Beijing welcomes urbanisation. But growing numbers of people lack the rights and access to services of urban citizens because they are classed as "rural" under China's restrictive hukou registration system, and at the same time lack any farmland to fall back on. That could be a recipe for instability, especially as economic growth slows.
Independent calculations are even higher. The landless population has climbed sharply to 120m from 40m just 10 years ago, estimates Hu Xingdou, who researches migrant issues at the Beijing Institute of Technology.
独立估算得到的数字甚至更高。据北京理工大学(Beijing Institute of Technology)研究农民工问题的学者胡星斗估计，失地农民的人数已经从仅10年前的4000万急剧上升至1.2亿。
For some Chinese, compensation for lost land is enough to fund a new urban life, or kick-start a small business as the city comes to them. But for millions it is not — setting the stage for desperate battles like the one that convulsed Fuyou.
Research by the Chinese Academy of Sciences indicates that "mass incidents" — the official euphemism for protests or riots — are, not surprisingly, more likely to occur if locals believe they are not being fairly compensated for their land.
That is the case for about a dozen villages and 20,000 people farming the rich flat land of Jincheng township on the shores of Dianchi Lake, south of Kunming, Yunnan's capital. Thousands of acres have been cleared to make way for the local government's plan to transform the area into a $3.6bn "ancient city" tourist attraction with lakeside villas, high-rise apartments and, less scenically, an auto parts wholesale market.
Rise in violence
Across China, the number of violent clashes rose sharply after 2009, as debt-strapped local governments began selling land pledged as collateral to real estate developers. This has put local authorities, and the full weight of the security forces, squarely on the side of the developers.
In 2010, at least 16 land grabs or forced demolitions across China involved the death of at least one person, according to a "blood house map" compiled from state media, compared with only a handful of cases in the rest of the decade.
Farm land in China belongs to the state or the village collective, while the families who have farmed it for centuries legally only hold a 30-year title. Villagers have no say when the government sells the land to a developer, but those who put up a tougher fight can often wrestle a greater share of the revenues.
The drive to sell often means that seizures for "development" outpace the natural growth of the city, contributing to the miles of empty ghost towns that surround many Chinese cities.
Resistance around Dianchi Lake is so fierce partly because farmers there make an unusually good living growing fresh vegetables that are packaged in local warehouses and shipped across China. Fuyou villagers were offered Rmb90,000 ($14,516) per mu (15 mu equal one hectare). That is about four times the national average for compensation but less than other nearby villages received, and much less than the national formula based on a multiple of annual crop income.
"It seems like a lot, but around here it only works out to about two years' income," says the Fuyou villager . "Some people have nothing else to live on, they would have to leave to find work. Around here people don't like to migrate. We like to stick close to home."
That's borne out by the statistics. Poor rural counties in China have seen an outflow in their registered population as working age adults leave to find work. But the population of Jincheng township has stayed flat. Young people find service jobs in nearby towns, while their parents continue to farm nearby.
Land grabs disrupt the transition to urban life by pushing people away faster and further than planned. Young adult migrants must support parents who have lost farming income. If village homes are destroyed, compensation funds can disappear into the cost of a new home.
That calculation is already weighing on the village of Anjiang in Jincheng township only a few miles from Fuyou. About 50 Anjiang villagers were injured in a pitched battle with demolition crews and police in April 2013.
Two years later, the village is surrounded by rubble although nothing new has been built. With nowhere to farm, many of Anjiang's 3,000 residents have joined the "floating population" of itinerant agricultural labourers, leaving behind old folks and children.
"Before we were poor but the family was together," an Anjiang shopkeeper says. "Now people are spread to the four winds."