“Honeymoon is Over” in Wukan
The Economist checks in from Wukan, where a small group of villagers protested last month over the lack of progress made by their new leaders in securing the return of their land, and reports that “one-time rebels are now far from happy” about their accomplishments since last year’s demonstrations:
In late September, just before the anniversary, the village’s new officials put up posters accusing “a few individuals with ulterior motives” of trying to foment “civil strife” in Wukan. One village leader, Hong Ruichao, says some of the protesters last month had common interests with the old administration. In their desperation for calm, the former rebels have adopted the conspiratorial language of those against whom they once struggled.
Yang Semao, a deputy village chief, says the “honeymoon is over” for his administration, which is responsible for the 8,000-odd permanent residents of Wukan as well as the land interests of another 3,000 or so who have moved elsewhere. He complains about the continuing influence in the village of the leaders he helped throw out (the top two were expelled from the party and fined, but to many villagers’ chagrin were not jailed). He also accuses unnamed higher-level officials “in cahoots with the mafia” of obstructing the village’s efforts to reclaim land that was sold off. Less than 60% of the nearly 450 hectares (1,100 acres) that the government says should be returned has been given back. Some villagers say higher levels of government have understated how much land should be handed over.
Residents are bitterly divided over what to do with the land they have recovered. On September 30th the new democratically elected village assembly met to vote on the issue. Twenty-five of the 80 or so representatives who turned up, including Mr Yang, who chaired the meeting, were in favour of keeping the returned land together in several large plots and sharing revenue from renting it out or developing it. Sixteen wanted to divide the land up among villagers. The rest abstained. A two-thirds majority of all the village’s 109 representatives is needed to pass a resolution, so no decision was reached. Mr Yang says the assembly will meet again later this year or early next to have another go.