The Guangzhou Daily Newspaper also gave a rare and vivid account on Sunday of the small-town politics that led to the bloody confrontation.
Rights groups and activists have been calling for the government to publish a list of those killed in the shootings in Dongzhou, a village northeast of Hong Kong in Guangdong province. The government says three people were killed, while residents put the toll at up to 20.
The paper said that the three men killed by police were Lin Yidui, 26, Jiang Guangge, 35, and Wei Jin, 31. Eight people were injured, the paper said, but did not give their names.
The violence was the deadliest clash in a series of confrontations throughout China between police and villagers, angry over land seizures for construction of factories, shopping malls and other projects.
Villagers say the protest erupted over complaints that residents received little or no compensation for land taken by the government for construction of a power plant near the city of Shanwei.
Chinese media coverage of the incident has been limited to a few articles published by the official Xinhua News Agency and local Guangdong papers.
In September, protesters began stopping workers from entering the power plant construction site, prompting officials to confront them on 6 December.
An official from the Shanwei city government said the protesters were armed with knives, wooden clubs and petrol bombs.
He said that Shanwei’s police commander “was forced to fire warning shots” in an effort to subdue the crowd and that the darkness and chaos were to blame for the killings.
Chinese leaders have shown unusual concern about Dongzhou, detaining the commander whose forces opened fire and promising to deal with local grievances.
By Saturday, order had been restored in the village and construction on the power plant had resumed, he said.
Dongzhou residents say that as many as 20 people were killed and claim that many of the protesters were unarmed. Some villagers also said they heard sporadic gunfire through the night, lasting for about 12 hours.
By the government’s count, China had more than 70,000 cases of rural unrest last year. The unrest has alarmed communist leaders, who have promised to raise living standards in the impoverished countryside, home to 800 million people.