The 29 May issue of the New York Times reported on incidents of widespread lawlessness in many of China's rural towns and villages that have grown in the last two decades. The once stringent Maoist discipline has withered and often been replaced by an economic free-for-all devoid of public cohesion or shared ideals that reads like something out of a "MAD MAX" movie. In late 1998, a schoolboy fight rekindled an old clan enmity and hot words led to open preparations for battle, with villagers building earthen ramparts and gun emplacements. They also constructed six-foot cannons from empty gas cylinders and cantaloupe-size projectiles from scrap metal. For months the Lanshan County authorities did nothing. Finally the villages began shelling each other across a half-mile of rice paddies in two daylong battles, one in December 1998 and the second the next month: 12 villagers were killed and 60 homes destroyed. A truce was called only after a volley hit the wrong village, killing four more locals.
A Chinese Academy of Social Sciences political scientist studying 40 villages described as "out of control" in southern Hunan (near Lanshan) concluded that the criminal infiltration of the police and the government in the region was pervasive and "a massive social threat." - Adam Geibel