“You need to hide,” the villager whispered urgently. “Government officials have arrived.”
I was whisked away through a maze of shanties, trees and rubble, and finally placed inside a crudely-made shed where my only companions were discarded coconut husks and a rooster. Through a gap in the wall I spotted men wearing eyeglasses and white short-sleeve, button-up dress shirts tucked into black pleated trousers – the unofficial uniform for Chinese bureaucrats.
The officials were there for the same reason I was: to talk with villagers living in makeshift shacks built atop the remains of their original homes, which had been torn down to make room for a luxury golf resort some two years earlier. Even though new homes in a “relocation village” awaited them, the villagers stuck it out among the ruins, their own form of protest to what they saw as a raw deal.
It was a scenario happening all over China. A developer pays a large sum of money to the local authorities for a parcel of land – all land in China is owned by the government – and a decidedly smaller sum gets filtered down to the displaced villagers who’ve lived there for generations. Where did the rest of the money go? That’s the question that causes tempers to fray. Not far from this village, a similar dispute involving a golf course and land compensation had resulted in a mass demonstration. Protesters smashed and overturned local police cars. Then the military police showed up and dispersed the crowd with tear gas.
This wasn’t what I expected when I first started writing about golf in China. I never realised so many of my conversations would have to be off the record, so much research would have to be conducted surreptitiously, or that I’d end up hiding from government officials in a shack in Hainan, China’s tropical island province.

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