From gourds to politics: Lu Banglie uses the legal system to protect farmers' rights.
But one thing led to another. In the decade since the flooding, Mr. Lu has been transformed into a man with a mission.
The wiry, plain-talking peasant from Hubei Province is now a thorn in the side of the Communist Party, a self-taught activist using the law to protect China's farmers from the pressures of development encroaching on their land.
"I have realized how much power you can get from knowledge of the rules and regulations," he said.
Although China's peasants have repeatedly resorted to violence in recent years, most confrontations have been spontaneous uprisings over local land seizures, unconnected to eruptions elsewhere. But under the guidance of Beijing-based democracy advocates, Lu sought to apply the experiences of his own village to the struggles of others.
His main weapon was Chinese law, the letter of which offers many guarantees that, in practice, are often set aside by party leaders. In a country where the party crushes any attempt at forming associations outside its control, Lu's goal of spreading the word on how to use lawbooks to oppose local leaders amounted to a relatively novel political challenge.