The massive raid targeted Boshe village in Guangdong province, a difficult-to-reach hamlet of 14,000 people near the city of Lufeng. Pictures of Sunday’s raid published on Chinese news websites showed dozens of police vehicles massed in the village of traditional-style, single-story tile-roofed homes separated by narrow alleyways, many passable only by bicycle or on foot.
Provincial anti-drug official Qiu Wei told the state-run Xinhua news agency that more than one-fifth of the village’s 2,000 households were connected to the drug trade and that the town had been providing a third of the crystal meth made in China over the last three years.
Police said they seized nine guns, ammunition, a homemade bomb and knives. Three officers were reportedly injured in the operation, including two who were shot and one who was struck by a car.
Use and production of crystal meth has been rising rapidly in China. A study published in November by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said of the more than 2 million drug users who have come into contact with Chinese authorities, 29% were using amphetamine-type drugs, up from just 9% in 2008.
Meth, in both crystal and pill form, is the second most popular illicit drug in China, behind only heroin, the report said, and in 2012, 40% of the total drug arrests -- nearly 50,000 out of 121,000 cases -- were related to meth.
Zhang Yong-an, a professor at Shanghai University who studies illicit drugs, said meth is increasingly popular among urban youth. In major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, a single dose costs $16 to $50, although the price can reach nearly $100 in exclusive clubs, said Wu Jiang, a professor at Yunnan University’s law school who also studies drug issues.
Guangdong is a major production center, Zhang said, though a good deal of the drug is also imported, particularly from Myanmar. According to Wu, starting around 2008, Chinese meth makers had increasingly shifted their activities from Yunnan to Guangdong because of stricter enforcement in Yunnan and to be closer to chemical factories in Guangdong that supply raw materials.
Lufeng’s “special geographic location” and “family-run operations” made it difficult for authorities to crack down on production in the area, Zhang said. The National Narcotic Control Commission designated Lufeng as China’s prime drug area in 1999 and again in 2011; this time, the officers deployed in the raid were brought in from other regions.
Once known for its lychee fruit, Boshe village is an insular -- some would say backward -- place where all the residents are said to share a single surname, Cai.
In recent months, some inhabitants had taken to online forums, complaining that the extensive meth-making operations -- a process that generates significant amounts of noxious waste -- had contaminated the water and soil, rendering it impossible to grow crops. Piles of waste reportedly littered the town, and residents openly stored the raw ingredients beside their homes.
Other locals said the significant amount of electricity needed for the meth-making laboratories had led to frequent power outages in the village, driving many residents to buy generators.
Earlier attempts by authorities to stamp out drug activity in Boshe reportedly were thwarted by an extensive network of lookouts in the village’s narrow streets, as well as even human barricades of women, children and the elderly.
In an online forum, nearby residents complained about lawlessness in Boshe.
“So many people in Boshe cook meth, make counterfeit money, sell heroin and weapons. There are too many corrupt officials there, how come the policemen haven’t arrested them?” wrote one commenter. “The reason why Boshe is so rich is because all the money comes from illegal businesses! Only very few people are in the legal business. 80% of them are involved in meth and 100% of them have weapons!”
Said another: “All the power cuts in Boshe are due to cooking meth or making counterfeit money! The local officials are all corrupt. They don’t deal with the problems. They take red envelopes [bribes] from the meth cooks.”
Media reports identified Cai Lianghuo, 42, as the mastermind of the meth operation. He was arrested in November. His cousin and local party chief Cai Dongjia, who was arrested in this week’s raid, was accused of trying to help free Cai Lianghuo from custody.
Nicole Liu in The Times’ Beijing bureau contributed to this report.