Two years after police raided China's "breaking bad" village, which was once a no-go area for police, villagers are now living with daily police patrols and regular house searches. But with many young men still on the run, the village is still living with the legacy of the methamphetamine business.
Police escort a man suspected of dealing drugs into custody in Xijia township, Lufeng, Guangdong Province, October 16, 2014. Photo: CFP
Unlike other Chinese country roads which are often lined with family planning slogans, the rural path to Boshe, a tiny seaside village in South China's Guangdong Province, is surrounded by banners that read "Wage a people's war against illegal drugs."
This unusual place has been nicknamed "China's No.1 drug village." The once obscure village earned itself the title because for several years as many as 20 percent of its 1,700 households participated in cooking and trafficking methamphetamine, making it the biggest "drug village" in Lufeng, the city that once supplied one third of the meth produced in China.
The "breaking bad" village was raided on the night of December 29, 2013 when 3,000 heavily armed police swept into the village with helicopters and speedboats.
Now, two years later, local police claim that no new meth labs have been found in Boshe since the blitz, and villagers have "gone straight."
However, the disappearance of the village's fugitive young men after the raid, the daily house searches by armed police and villagers' reluctance to discuss anything related to drugs suggest that the village has not recovered from the scars left by the lawlessness and the crackdown.
Walking the pitted narrow roads in Boshe one can see anti-drug posters pasted on walls, windows and the fences of orchards. Some of them are illegible or defaced.
According to local officials who guided a group of reporters on a brief visit to the village in December, before the raid, the pungent odor of meth ingredients assaulted the noses and eyes of people living several villages away, villagers spliced electrical wires from power grids to provide the power needed for their meth labs causing frequent blackouts, and farmland and rivers were contaminated by toxic waste.
These problems have disappeared due to a sustained effort by the government in the past two years, but the legacy of the illegal drug trade is still plain to see.
In the center of the village, a couple of palatial three-story villas stand out from the village's usual dilapidated bungalows and shanties.
Their gold-painted walls are decorated with shining glass and carved antique windows. Several surveillance cameras keep a close eye on onlookers.
Each villa has a high metal fence separating the owners' luxurious life from the outside world. An Audi A7 was parked outside one of such villa.
Local officials said that some of those luxury villas are owned by villagers who may have made a fortune from drug trafficking.
The economy of Boshe once relied on fishing and orchards which could generate a monthly household income of around 1,000 yuan ($165), but villagers who made meth could earn 10,000 yuan a month, the Guangzhou Daily reported.
Among those villas, a magnificent but unfinished four-story villa with eight marble pillars each worth hundreds of thousands of yuan was deserted and surrounded by piles of bricks, broken sticks, household garbage and knee-high weeds.
The particularly large villa was owned by Cai Dongjia, the former Party secretary of Boshe and alleged drug kingpin, who was arrested in the raid. Cai was accused of protecting the village's meth manufacturers and allegedly working with corrupt local police to free detained villagers. Cai's case is still under investigation.
Suspects arrested in the raid are currently awaiting trial. After the court rules on their cases and they are sentenced, any house found to have been paid for with the proceeds of crime will be torn down, Lin Yizhi, deputy head of the Lufeng public security department, told the Global Times.
Along with Cai, police in the raid arrested 182 suspects in Boshe and confiscated 2,925 kilograms of meth. Police also seized guns, ammunition and knives.
Villagers refused to tell reporters about the raid or anything about illegal drugs during the 30-minute tour.
Many villagers either stared at reporters warily or simply went into their houses. One woman surnamed Li who lives in a three-story house with her husband told the Global Times that her family used to work in Foshan, Guangdong and she and her husband came back shortly after the raid.
"I know nothing about the drug issue in the village," Li said.
When asked about her three-story house, she said that the family saved money they earned working in cities for years to build it.
Cai Longqiu, the current Party secretary of the village, told the Global Times that the whole village is one big family clan with all local men having the same surname "Cai."
"Most people have one or several family members that were arrested for cooking and dealing illegal drugs, and it's understandable that they are reluctant to talk about these dishonorable things," Cai Longqiu said.
These blood ties kept villagers united against outsiders.
Before the raid, the village was known as a fortress that was off limits to all outsiders.
"Even for us police, we would dispatch 100 armed officers to search the village, but would be surrounded by two or three hundred young men on motorcycles," Wu Muqiang, director of a local township police station who often went into the village, told the Global Times.
"Now the situation has improved, at least we can conduct searches and arrests with only four police officers, and no one stops us," Wu said.
In the village, children run around the alleys barefooted, and elderly people and women sit outside. Few young people - and no young men at all - can be spotted in the village streets.
According to a wall of photos in the local government office that shows information about 100 fugitives, they are mostly men with the oldest being 80 years old and the youngest at 18.
Wu said that police have seized 35 fugitives from Boshe suspected of cooking and trafficking meth in the past two years, and at least 40 suspects are still at large.
The village government distributes a monthly subsidy of 200 yuan to families whose only breadwinner was arrested or fled, Cai Longqiu said.
"We are still collecting their information in order to better help them with their life and their children's education," Cai Longqiu said.
Crackdown every day
After the raid, local police maintained a large presence in the village to keep the illegal drug business under control. Police started to patrol and conduct house-to-house searches every day in Boshe village from the first day after the raid, Wu said.
During the reporters' visit, two police officers went from room to room at Li's home, checking her refrigerator and kitchen drain.
"The first time police came to my home, I was so scared. But now I am getting used to it," Li said.
Apart from regular searches, police have also set up checkpoints at the entrance of the village to randomly check vehicles going in and out.
In Lufeng, police set up a total of eight checkpoints on the main roads including the one leading to Boshe. Due to its long coastline, police have also set up three checkpoints by the sea.
Lufeng has been involved in drug production for several years. Three years ago, 14 percent of the meth seized in China was produced in Lufeng, and currently it's 40 percent, the Guangzhou Daily reported.
"The purpose of those checkpoints is to intercept the raw materials for cooking meth," Lin said.
Lufeng does not produce ephedrine and other chemicals needed for cooking meth, so they must be transported from other provinces and cities.
Since the raid, the Lufeng authorities have dispatched 350,000 police offices to check 220,000 vehicles, destroyed 75 meth-cooking sites, arrested 159 drug traffickers and 350 drug users and confiscated 1.7 tons of meth and 40 guns, according to the local government.
Guangdong is one of the country's major synthetic drugs manufacturing hubs, an international drug trafficking channel and a transfer point for the domestic illegal drug trade due to its location and developed sea and land transport infrastructure. Boshe, with its geographical position near the South China Sea, is in an ideal location for drug traffickers.
In order to raise public awareness of drug laws, the Lufeng government publicly sentenced 38 drug dealers in June 2015, 13 of whom received death sentences.
Chen Wei, deputy chief judge of Lufeng People's Court, claimed the public rally acted as a deterrent against drug crime, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
The semi-open meth cooking in Lufeng has been curbed by harsh punishment, and many local drug dealers have moved their business to other provinces and cities, said Yang Xusong, mayor of the city of Shanwei, Guangdong.
"More than 300 Lufeng suspects are still at large across the country," Yang said.
Ruan Qilin, professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times that to curb drug trafficking, the government has to beef up controls over the production of chemicals that are the primary source for illegal drugs.
Amendments to the country's Criminal Law laid out punishments for those involved in illegally producing and trading chemicals that are used to make illegal drugs. Those who severely violate the regulation will face at least seven years imprisonment.