“For the first time on record, the Chinese Communist party has lost all control, with the population of 20,000 in this southern fishing village now in open revolt.” So begins Telegraph correspondent Malcolm Moore’s report of what he has personally witnessed in the fishing village of Wukan, Guangdong over the past few days. Enraged over government land grabs, villagers have now overrun local authorities and driven police out. They remain barricaded within their village, roadblocks set up by both police and villagers preventing food and water from entering. Here’s a roundup of what’s happening.
From Sydney Morning Herald:
For months, the 20,000 villagers who live in Wukan, near the city of Shanwei in the Guangdong province, have protested first against having nearly $154 million worth of their land seized and sold off by the local government, and then at the brutal tactics used by police to regain control.
Back in September, villagers rioted, chasing out the local party secretary and drawing a harsh response from local riot police. The crackdown that followed resulted in the alleged death of a child. If that wasn’t enough to further enrage locals, some of the seized land was was the site of a local cemetery. From FT:
Locals said the land sold was collectively owned by the residents. They were unaware of the sale until construction work began on the land. Their outrage was also fuelled by the fact that some of the land was used for the graves of the village people’s ancestors.
We saw 4,500 villagers march less than a month ago, promising to escalate the situation if the government failed to solve the land problem. This week Malcolm Moore also spoke with one of the villagers about their grievances:
“Almost all of our land has been taken away from us since the 1990s but we were relaxed about it before because we made our money from fishing,” said Yang Semao, one of the village elders. “Now, with inflation rising, we realise we should grow more food and that the land has a high value.”
Escalation this week
The situation began to heat up again last Friday, when authorities arrested five of the villagers’ 13 self-appointed representatives negotiating a solution. Another confrontation between villagers and riot police took place on Sunday at barricades set up by villagers to keep police out.
Then on Monday things really came to a head when one of the arrested representatives, Xue Jinbo, died in police custody of a reported “heart attack.” His family claims he was murdered. We’ve seen before what can happen when a protest is galvanized by a local hero martyred by police.
At this point you should just go ahead and read the entire piece by Moore in the telegraph, who has managed to somehow gain access into the village. He has also been posting notes about his entrance into the village and his experiences on Google Plus:
Inside there are now no police, or government officials. It is the first time I’ve been anywhere without police in the almost four years I’ve been in China and it didn’t just feel liberating to me – the villagers are exuberant. There’s a constant buzz of excitement in the air, as young men run around, using walkie talkies to organise the resistance. Unlike many villages in the countryside, Wukan is also full of children, who seem to be enjoying the upheaval and sudden distraction of their parents.
Of course, it cannot last. When I asked how long they expected to hold out for, and what would happen next, eyes dropped to the ground and the standard Chinese response of “it’s not clear”, came back.
What comes next
Land grabs are a huge problem in the Chinese countryside, and have lead to numerous and large protests in the past. But we’ve never seen anything like this before, where a town of 20,000 has staged a complete rebellion and wrested control from authorities. In a tweet earlier today, Moore points out that the region is known for their aggression:
Wukanese famously aggressive. Old saying: In heaven there is the thunder god, on earth, Lufeng and Wukan.
Charlie Custer of China Geeks throws in his two cents of how this all will end:
Before we go any further, I want to get this out of the way: no, this is not the first spark in some nationwide rebellion that will see the national government overthrown. In fact, it’s not even a rebellion against the central government, as you can tell from the pleas for help from Beijing in Moore’s article.
Still, it puts Beijing in an awfully interesting position. As I see it, they have three basic options:
1) Come to the rescue of the town, declare the local government officials corrupt, put them on trial and restore order peacefully. This is, I suspect, exactly what the people in Wukan want.
2) Come to the rescue of the officials and provide them enough manpower to completely crush the rebellion. This would be easy, but would attract a lot of negative attention internationally, and there’s a risk of it leaking online domestically, too.
3)Do nothing for the time being, and see if the officials can regain control on their own, or if the rebellion spreads.
Obviously we are all hoping for outcome number one. We’ll keep you updated as things continue to develop. In the meantime, you can follow updates via Malcolm Moore’s Twitter @MalcolmMoore.
Here are some pictures and videos of the week’s events, coming in from around the web.
Mourning for Xue Jinbo on Monday:
Police removing roadblocks that were already up last week: