Wukan Villagers Protest Over Lack of Progress

A year after land grab protests began in the Guangdong fishing village of Wukan, and just six months after electing a new village committee in what many hailed as a new approach to dealing with social unrest in China, about 100 villagers gathered outside the village’s Communist Party offices to voice their frustration at the lack of progress that their new leaders have made in securing the return of their land. From Reuters’ James Pomfret:

“We still haven’t got our land back,” shouted Liu Hancai, a retired 62-year-old party member, one of many villagers fighting to win back land that was seized by Wukan’s previous administration and illegally sold off for development.

The small crowd, many on motorbikes, was kept under tight surveillance by plain-clothed officials fearful of any broader unrest breaking out. Police cars were patrolling the streets.

“There would be more people here, but many people are afraid of trouble and won’t come out,” Liu told Reuters.

Friday’s demonstration was far less heated than the protests that earned Wukan headlines around the world last September. But the small rally reveals how early optimism over the ground-breaking adoption of local-level democracy has soured for some.

The Financial Times reports that while some villagers have argued for more patience, others prefer action:

Cai Yifeng, a local restaurant owner, says the problem is that the Lufeng city government, which oversees Wukan, has not changed its ways. He says several of its officials are allied with Xue Chang, the former Wukan party chief. Xue was fined and disciplined this year for his role in the illegal land sales but not arrested, which village leaders say has emboldened his supporters.

“The Lufeng government tells lies to the committee,” Cai said. “The dissatisfaction among the villagers will only continue to rise.”

Meanwhile, the South China Morning Post reports that Guangdong party chief Wang Yang, who earned praise for his progressive handling of the Wukan incident, has made a fresh call for reform as he continues to maneuver for a seat on the next Politburo Standing Committee. But while The New York Times’ Didi Kirsten Tatlow writes that Wang has positioned himself well as a reformer, The South China Morning Post’s Mimi Lau asks whether the party is ready for him:

Analysts believe promotion to chief of the central disciplinary inspection commission or party boss of Beijing would be logical next steps for Wang. But whether he can make it to the Standing Committee this time is uncertain.

The reported decision to cut the all-powerful panel to seven from nine seats means competition for spots will be all the more fierce.

At the moment, some observers believe Tianjin party secretary Zhang Gaoli, a Jiang Zemin ally, has the edge over Wang.

Also working against Wang is his relatively young age. At 57, If he was appointed to the Standing Committee this year, he could theoretically stay on until 2027 – an usually long period at the height of power.

“If [the Standing Committee] stays at nine, I would bet on him making it,” said Steve Tsang, of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham. Otherwise, Wang’s chances of ascension were 50-50, Tsang said.