Protesters in Wukan, the village that captivated China watchers around the world during their bold stand-off with the Chinese government, have packed up shop and gone home after government concessions.
The concessions the villagers were waiting for included a promise from the government that they will receive some of their land back. To that effect, the government has promised to buy back the land it had previously seized and sold, and return it to Wukan. More importantly, though, was the release of three villagers detained for protesting.
“The three will be released one after another today and tomorrow,” Mr Lin announced to residents.
Mr Zhu also agreed to release “in due course” the body of Xue Jinbo, the protest leader allegedly beaten to death in police custody nearly two weeks ago, Mr Lin said.
Mr Lin did not say when the body of he 42-year old father of three would be released — police claim he died of a “sudden illness” but his family allege he was beaten to death.
Residents are especially eager for the release of Xue Jinbo’s body, and in particular assurances from Guangdong Communist Party deputy-secretary Zhu Mingguo that a full investigation will be held to determine Jinbo’s cause of death.
Throughout the protests, villagers wisely chose to direct the majority of their anger at their local representatives, while maintaining their loyalty towards Beijing. Were villagers protesting the central government, it is highly unlikely Beijing would have budged an inch. This localization of anger was essential in allowing their grievances to be aired, and also in receiving their demands.
While Wukan currently appears to be content, villagers are still ready and willing to make more trouble if the government attempts to renege on any of its promises. Which is a definite possibility, and frequent tactic in cases such as this one. This respite, and three day “cool-off period” while the bodies are returned, will allow Weibo and media furor to subside. When the world stops watching, it is uncertain which promises will be fulfilled and which will be forgotten.
But those living in Wukan are not content with simply rolling over and accepting what pittances are given to them.
“Because this matter has been achieved, we won’t persist in making noise,” village organiser Yang Semao told an assembly hall of village representatives and reporters. He said protest banners would be taken down.
“They’ve agreed to our initial requests,” Yang told Reuters. He added: “If the government doesn’t meet its commitments, we’ll protest again.”
The revolt and its resolution could potentially have long lasting influences on the future of dispute mediation in China. Wukan was a rare case of measured response by both sides. A successful, peaceful mediation of a potentially inflammatory issue like land grabs may embolden other locales with their own disputes.
However, it is also possible Wukan was a one-off incident, a perfect mixture of media, empathy, coincidence and timing. Wall Street Journal points out that CCP secretary Wang Yang, and his potential upcoming ascendance in the central government, is a likely explanation for the quiet defusing of the situation:
The Wukan revolt had became a major test for Guangdong, China’s most important manufacturing and export region, and in particular its Communist Party secretary, Wang Yang. He is among those vying for a spot on China’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee during a once-a-decade leadership swap next year. The longer the village standoff continue[d], the more it could hurt his prospects.
See Shanghaiist’s initial Wukan coverage here.