"In cities where huge urban redevelopment projects are underway, places like Shanghai, for example, residents who resist forced relocation without anything resembling due process are known to have been summoned to the police headquarters and retained there just long enough for the wrecking crews to knock down their homes in their absence.
Those who protest too much are often simply carted off to teach them a lesson.
Alternately, in another favored tactic, relatives are threatened that if their family member continues to be a nuisance, there could be consequences for others in the family.
Worse still is the contracting out of enforcement to genuine thugs. Here we're talking about local toughs who are deputed to take care of a "bad element," or suppress a demonstration using their fists or a few lengths of pipe. One could cite many examples, like Lu Banglie, who was badly beaten two years ago at Taishi, in Guangdong Province, when he brought a Western reporter with him to investigate the rigging of a village election.
This tactic, which seems to be spreading in China, has the advantage of deniability, since the police are usually careful to remain out of sight while heads are cracked.
Practices like these sometimes draw comparisons to the Wild West, but the more apt parallels belong to old-fashioned dictatorships like the Haiti of Papa Doc, with his notorious Tonton Macoutes.
. . .
Chinese leaders relish stability above all, and an image of harmony and of enlightened modernity. But like their ceaselessly renewed battles against official corruption, the likelihood of reining in contemporary thuggishness seems remote. This is because the very officials who speak in euphemisms when addressing it are its ultimate beneficiaries."