With Roadblock Strengthening, Wukan Remains Defiant

With the siege of Wukan nearing the one week mark, and with the village of 20,000 now squarely in the cross-hairs of the global media, The New York Times questions how long the villagers can hold out as the government strengthens its armed blockade and tries to drive a wedge into the movement:

“We will defend our farmland to the death!” a handmade banner proclaims, referring to a possible land deal they fear will strip them of almost all their farmland. “Is it a crime,” another muses, “to ask for the return of our land and for democracy and transparency?”

How long they will last is another matter. As the days pass, the cordons of police officers surrounding the village grow larger. Armored trucks and troop carriers have been reported nearby. On local television, a 24-hour channel denounces the villagers as “a handful of people” dedicated to sabotaging public order, with the names of protesters flashing on a blue screen, warning that they will be prosecuted. Many here fear this will all end badly. “The SWAT teams and the police here are acting like they’re crime organizations, not police forces,” said Chen Dequan, a 50-year-old farmer and fisherman. “The entire village is worried.”

Tom Lasseter, the Beijing Bureau Chief for McClatchy Newspapers who evaded the roadblock and has been Tweeting and reporting from within Wukan since Thursday (though it appears, based on his Twitter updates, that he is no longer the sole Western reporter in the village), caught up with Lin Zulian and Yang Semao, the two men singled out and wanted by the government for leading the revolt:

The mayor of the city that oversees this farming and fishing village has publicly named the pair as main agitators of Wukan’s recent rebellion against the local government. Acting Shanwei Mayor Wu Zili vowed to crack down on them and their allies, according to state media.

Such a threat would terrify most Chinese in a nation infamous for police state tactics. But on Friday morning, both men stood in front of a crowd of thousands here and railed against local corruption.

“The officials are lying to the villagers,” Yang said, standing behind a large photograph of Xue Jinbo, a fellow advocate who died in police custody Sunday. A few minutes later, he burst into tears that were echoed by heaving sobs from the rows of people in front of him.

Meanwhile, The Financial Times noted a defiant mood in the village:

An atmosphere of foreboding, tinged with jubilation, hung over the groups of young villagers as they took photographs with foreign reporters and worried about when the police might come again.

“We were very scared a day or two ago, but now, with the whole world watching, we don’t think they will dare do anything to us,” said one young villager was is half-jokingly referred by others to as Wukan’s “foreign minister”.

That joke underlines the astonishing fact that this village has now spent almost two months virtually independent from Communist party rule.

Bloomberg compares the Wukan standoff with the Occupy Wall Street movement, noting that the situation in China represents what happens when a “similar toxic mix” of grievances over wealth disparity play out in a totalitarian society.