Organized Wukan Villagers Plan Next Steps

Villagers in Wukan snubbed the request of local Communist Party officials to discuss a possible resolution to the standoff on Sunday, as they continue to await the release of Xue Jinbo’s body and a satisfactory conclusion to a months-long land dispute. From The Telegraph:

“Leaders at a higher level of local government summoned me for talks. They said they would come to the village as they know I will not leave. But I told them that until they release Xue’s body, and the four other villagers held in custody, and to give back our land, there can be no talks,” said village representative Lin Zuluan.

The Telegraph also noted that for the first time since the siege began last week, villagers prepared to take their grievances outside of Wukan in a march on the nearby administrative town of Lufeng:

During another day of protests and marches, Wukan village representative Lin Zulian addressed a crowd of more than 6,000, pledging to fight with their lives against the corrupt system which has robbed them of their coastal land and of their village leader, Xue Jinbo.

“We give the local government and police five days to hand back Xue’s body. If not, we shall climb over our barricades and march on the [Lufeng] town hall to try and get his remains,” said Mr Lin.

On Saturday the villagers staged a practice march around the small maze of streets after another emotional rally, the sixth in as many days, which included a memorial for Xue.

Another village representative, Yang Semao, confirmed the villagers’ resolve to march on Wednesday and not back down if their demands continue to go unanswered. He told Reuters that they do not believe the government would respond to their march with an armed crackdown:

“Parents can’t harm their children,” he told Reuters. “The central government should use Wukan as an example to solve all the land grab disputes.

“If they don’t meet our requests, the country will be in danger. The rich-poor gap has been widening. Look at how our land has been taken by corrupt officials.”

The local authorities strengthened the armed blockade around Wukan late last week, and continue to try and starve the villagers into defecting (some have already done so), though residents have managed to smuggle supplies into the village and The New York Times observed that shops appear fully stocked. And despite whispers of an impending crackdown, The Financial Times reported Sunday that villagers had formed their own administration to govern themselves completely outside of the state’s control:

Villagers pitch in and are assigned tasks by the temporary village committee that has replaced the Communist officials who fled after being accused of corruption and misrule three months ago.

Some guard the village perimeter, alert for any sign of a crackdown, while others organize food and logistics or coordinate the mass rallies that have become a daily occurrence since one of the village leaders died in police custody on December 11.

More and more members of the foreign media have made their way into Wukan since last week, and a makeshift foreign media center has been established. The Financial Times posted a video from within Wukan, the latest in a series of overviews put online by the foreign press, which includes interviews with “openly defiant” villagers. Tom Lasseter, the Beijing Bureau Chief for McClatchy Newspapers who evaded the roadblock and has been Tweeting and reporting from within Wukan since last Thursday, posted a photo of a notice distributed by the villagers urging the members of the media to use positive reports and stressing that “we are not in revolt, we support the Communist Party.” His report on Sunday speculated how long the villagers could push forward and maintain their enthusiam with no sign of real compromise from the ousted authorities.

The China Media Project observed that while a search today for “Wukan” in a database of Chinese-language newspapers returned zero results from mainland publications (of which about 200+ would be captured by the database in question), offshore Chinese-language press has covered the event and information has still crept past mainland censors and into the Chinese blogosphere:

While there seems to be no mainstream media coverage inside China today of the Wukan story, news is flittering across domestic microblogs. Searches for “Wukan” remain blocked on Sina Weibo, bringing up a notice that results cannot be shown “according to Chinese laws and regulations.”

However, searches for “Shanwei,” which were blocked late last week, are now freed up and reveal plenty of chatter about the situation in Wukan Village, for which a number of new keywords have cropped up, including “W-kan” (W坎), which uses the English letter “W” with the second character in the village’s name, and “Wu-K” (乌K), which combines the character for “wu” with the English letter “K.” Another term being used is the simple “WK.”

The images of armed police surrounding the roadways and waterways into Wukan exemplify the largescale buildup of China’s domestic public security infrastructure under Hu Jintao, a trend which may be one of his “most far-reaching yet contested legacies,” according to Reuters:

“When we look back, the defining feature of Hu Jintao’s era will be stability preservation. That will be the term through which his era is remembered. It will be his legacy,” said Cui Weiping, a 55-year-old dissident-writer in Beijing, who lives monitored by a team of security police — another part of the security drive.

“Stability preservation is the party’s defensive response to a society that is growing more fluid and assertive,” said Cui.

“But the system can’t keep up with social change and public demands. That’s why they’re so anxious despite all the security spending,” she said, adding that she herself has become a prisoner to this push.

“Somebody controls my cell phone, my computer and Internet, when I can step outside and when I must stay in,” Cui said.

Elizabeth Economy writes for The Council on Foreign Relations that the incident has done little to aid Guangdong Party Secretary Wang Yang’s desire, as conveyed by the Chinese state media earlier this year, to “balance maintaining stability and basic rights while helping people to express their needs”:

Eventually the siege will end but the fundamental challenge to Beijing will not. Every year, despite the country’s impressive economic growth, the number of protests grows. By one estimate, Beijing now contends with 180,000 so-called “mass incidents”. The why of these protests is no mystery: the lack of the rule of law, transparency, and official accountability. These are the structural elements that define the country’s political system and allow corruption to flourish. In the Wukan case, the villagers are protesting corruption in both land sales and the electoral process. Whether the protests are over these issues or the environment or defective products, the root cause is the same.

Beijing’s take away from the Wukan protest probably won’t be much more than “It’s time to launch another [ineffective] anti-corruption campaign.” The real take away, however, is that it is time to listen to what Premier Wen Jiabao had to say a few months ago in Dalian: “We must govern the country by law… We need to uphold judicial justice…People’s democratic rights and interests prescribed in the Constitution must be protected. The most important ones are the right to vote and to stay informed about, participate in, and oversee government affairs.” Put more bluntly, if the 5th generation* of Party leaders doesn’t listen to Wen and seize the initiative on political reform, it is looking more and more likely that the Chinese people will.

Sources:

- “Wukan siege: rebel Chinese villagers reject resolution talks” from The Telegraph

- “China’s rebel villagers in Wukan threaten to march on government offices” from The Telegraph

- “Chinese rebel villagers vow march to press complaints” from Reuters

- “Chinese Protesters Seek Return of Villager’s Body” from The New York Times

- “Wukan villagers form own administration” from The Financial Times

- “Defiant mood in village that shook China” from The Financial Times

- “Between jubilation and foreboding in Wukan, China” from McClatchy Newspapers via The Miami Herald

- “Chinese-language coverage of Wukan” from The China Media Project

- “Insight: In China, security drive sows own seeds of unrest” from Reuters

- “Occupy Wukan: China’s 99 Percent” from The Council on Foreign Relations