Wukan Protest Leader Named Party Chief

Lin Zuluan (林祖銮), one of the leaders of land grab protests in Wukan late last year which boiled over after the death of a detained villager and ultimately led to the ousting of local authorities and concessions from provincial CCP officials, was named party head of the village on Sunday. From AFP:

“This is a decision that everyone in Wukan supports and it is an important move that will help resolve the land and village finance disputes,” a villager surnamed Zhang told AFP.

“The former party committee has been dissolved. The former head of the village party committee and other members of the committee have been detained and are under investigation for corruption.”

Lin will lead a new CCP committee in Wukan to protect villagers’ interests, officials told Xinhua News, and will organize new elections for the committee after an investigation team declared previous elections invalid following the protests. One villager told The Global Times that he hoped the new committee will help the villagers reach a satisfactory conclusion in the still-ongoing probe into the illegal land grabs at the heart of the unrest:

“Generally speaking, we are satisfied that Lin is heading the Party committee after the special investigation team dispatched by the provincial government came to the village to find out the truth and restore order,” a Wukan villager surnamed Zhang said.

“I hold a positive attitude toward the new leader, as he was respected by us when we were fighting for our rights. And I hope he will not let us down and lead the village to prosperity,” Zhang told the Global Times yesterday.

Premier Wen Jiabao called on Sunday for reforms to protect farmers’ land property rights and crack down on illegal land grabs, and villagers in Wukan reported that the three other detainees had been set free. Still, as The New York Times reported today, the government has yet to deliver on the compromise that ended the December standoff:

In the more than three weeks since then, Guangdong officials have promised to return roughly one-fourth of the 1,700 hectares, or 6.8 square miles, of village land that residents claim was illegally sold or leased in long-term contracts by Wukan’s previous leaders, one of Mr. Lin’s deputies, Yang Semao, said by telephone on Monday.

“I think they sold far more” than the province intends to return, he said. “But I have no way to determine this.”

The villagers’ two other demands remain unaddressed. The authorities in the city of Lufeng, which encompasses Wukan, so far have refused to drop criminal charges against three men who were abducted and jailed on protest-related charges days before the villagers’ uprising.

Most serious, neither they nor others have investigated the death of a fourth man, 42-year-old Xue Jinbo, who was seized with two of the others and who died while in police custody. Mr. Xue was a member of Mr. Lin’s ad hoc committee, which was pressing Wukan residents’ land claims before the protests began on Dec. 11.

The Guardian also noted a report in The Straits Times last week that a villager killed himself after repeated phone calls from authorities urging him to turn himself in for involvement in the protests. This weekend, The Council on Foreign Relations’ Elizabeth Economy warned against diverting attention from Wukan as the dust continues to settle:

More bad news comes from outside Wukan. Zheng Yanxiong, the uncompromising top party official in Shanwei county (which oversees Wukan) who said pigs would fly before the foreign media could be trusted, has amassed more power after being named the head of the local legislature.

Still, the cloud over Wukan may have a silver lining. The village has become lodged in the political consciousness of the Chinese people. The director of the Political Science Department at the Central Institute of Socialism Wang Zhanyang has used Wukan to call publicly for democratic reform, including the separation of government and party, not only at the village but also at the county level. Cloaking part of his long discourse in Deng Xiaoping-speak, Wang has brought Wukan into the mainstream of Chinese political debate.

It is too easy to assume that the initial resolution of a problem in China represents the last word. That’s almost never the case. Now we know that we should continue to pay attention to what happens in Wukan.  It matters a lot—not only for the people of Wukan but also for our understanding of the evolving debate and real potential for wide scale political change in China.

For more CDT coverage of the aftermath of the Wukan incident, see “Hu Deping on Wukan and Land Rights,” “Wu Si on Wukan and Civil Rights” and “Wang Zhanyang on Wukan and Village Autonomy.”

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