Revolution in Wukan, China

On the 14th of December, The New York Times reported on the growing social protests in the coastal village of Wukan in Southern China. The New York Times reports that 13,000 to 20,000 residents rallied together to run all of their city officials out of town, after a long battle with the local government over land disputes and allegations of corruption. In September, thousands of the village residents protested against the local government’s sale of a village-owned pig farm for luxury housing. The government pocketed $156 million and gave nothing back to the people who did not want their livelihood and land sold off in the first place. Part of the land was used as a cemetery for the village ancestors (Financial Times Asia via the Shanghaiist). Other issues that led to the revolt include growing pollution in the village and police brutality.

Above: a child in front of a damaged government office in Wukan.

Also on the 14th of December, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the conflict began a few days prior, on the 11th of December, when the police attempted to arrest a local resident and his fellow village members beat the police away with sticks. The police responded by firing tear gas and eventually retreated. Riot police set up a road block outside of the village. These current protests are related to police brutality in September:

The clashes in Wukan began in September, when a government office was damaged by an angry mob. About 400 police responded with force, beating residents and allegedly killing one child.

The violence in December escalated further when the local representative died in police custody after leaving to negotiate with the local Communist Party. The NYT reported on the 14th of Dec:

Last year, there were as many as 180,000 outbursts of what sociologists here describe as “mass incidents”: strikes, sit-ins, rallies and violent clashes that have mushroomed alongside China’s breakneck economic expansion. Government figures from the mid-1990s put the number of such episodes at fewer than 10,000.

“People don’t have sufficient faith in legal procedures or the media and feel they have no redress when bad things are done to them,” said Martin K. Whyte, a Harvard sociologist who studies Chinese social trends.

 

Above: Wukan residents on the 14th.

The NYT reported on the 17th of December that Retired businessman Lin Zuluan is now the village’s ‘de facto leader’. On the 18th there was no clear end in sight to the local political conflict. Riot police have maintained the road block around the village, which is preventing some deliveries from coming in. The residents are getting supplies from near by village. The protesters are looking to the government in Beijing to help them negotiate with the local Communist Party, but as yet the government has made no public shows of intervention in the peace negotiations. One of the protesters tells the NYT:

Our original intent was just to get our land back… We never intended that things would get into such a situation… We have to fight to the end. That’s the only way out. If we retreat now, all the hardships the government imposed on us will come true.

On the 19th of December, the Financial Times reported that the villagers have now formed their own temporary administration that is operating outside China’s government control.

In the besieged village of Wukan in Southern China, the residents govern themselves completely outside the state’s control in an atmosphere reminiscent of the early days of the Paris Commune….
The narrow streets have taken on a festival atmosphere tinged with a sense of foreboding as a build-up of armed police continues in a steadily tightening cordon around the village.

The precarious situation in Wukan is troubling, with riot police ready to carry out further state violence. Given that the villagers’ previous clashes with police have been brutal, the world awaits to see progressive change and stability in Wukan over the long term.

Photo credits:

Reuters, Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Dec 11.

Agence France-Presse — Getty Images, NYT 14 Dec 11.

Agence France-Presse — Getty Images, NYT 16 Dec 11

This post was first published in parts on Google+ and Tumblr.

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