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China’s Wukan Uprising: Is The Honeymoon Over? – Analysis

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By Namrata Hasija

The author’s last article analyzed the Wukan uprising in September 2011 over land grabs. The villagers were able to win extraordinary concessions including their right to elect a new village committee on 3 and 4 March 2012. In his speech after the election to the village committee, one of the young leaders of the Wukan protest movement Zhuang Liehong had announced, “I will retrieve the land that rightfully belongs to Wukan villagers”. However, only six months after the election, the democratically elected leader resigned on 21 October, stating that he was “unable to handle the wishes of the villagers from within the village committee.”

People's Republic of China
People’s Republic of China

This article intends to revisit the village after six months of the elections and a year after the now famous Wukan uprising took place. Also it aims to probe the minor protest in Wukan this September.

Wukan 2011-12: An Assessment

On 21 September 2012, the anniversary of Wukan’s first big protest, more than 100 residents gathered outside the village government’s offices to complain that the newly elected village committee was slow in fulfilling the promise they had made to them that is to give back the land that was sold off by the previous village committee. Before this protest, the new leaders had 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 these protesters had common interests with the old administration. Yang Semao, the deputy village chief, says the “honeymoon is over” for his administration as the corrupt officials that they had overthrown last year still have their influence in the village and accuses unnamed higher-level officials “in cahoots with the mafia” of obstructing the village’s efforts to reclaim land that was sold off(Reuters: 21 September 2012). The use of such language by the village leaders shows that even they have started speaking in the same fashion as their predecessors. According to an article in the Economist, “In their desperation for calm, the former rebels have adopted the conspiratorial language of those against whom they once struggled”.

On the other hand, the upper levels of the government claim that they have returned almost 60 per cent of the villager’s land. However, the villagers allege that the estimation of how much land should be returned is flawed. The other dilemma faced by the residents is about how to divide the land that has already been returned to them. The village assembly decided to vote on the issue, but the 30 September, 2012 meeting failed to take any decision on the issue due to the absence of a two-thirds majority of the entire village’s 109 representatives, which is needed to pass a resolution (The Economist: 20 October 2012). Zhuang Liehong’s statement at the time of his resignation, that ‘working for the residents from within the village committee is getting difficult’ highlights the tussle within the committee.

Wukan Experiment: Just a Fizzle?

The revolt has to be analysed at two levels that is, the immediate results and the road after the immediate goals are achieved. The immediate goal of the rebels last year was to get the officials responsible for selling off their land dismissed and have a free and fair election of the village committee. The revolt was a success as far as the immediate goals are concerned. However, the road after that has proved that it fell short of achieving the goals that were set for the village committee to achieve for the residents. The minor revolt and discontent simmering amongst the villagers against village committee elected by the residents, the differences within the committee on how to distribute the returned land and also their inability to get the entire land of the villagers back by 1 May 2012, which was the deadline set by the provincial government to return the land are examples of its failure.

The reasons for its failure after the elections can be best explained by Fu Hualing’s (Hong Kong University’s legal scholar) statement in a conference organised to analyse the revolt after an year. The statement reads that the “problem is not within the village itself. It is how the local government handles issues affecting the village, in the case of Wukan, real power to decide land issues continues to reside with government officials at the county level and higher” (China Digital Times: 24 October 2012). Experiments like Wukan can only succeed in China if the higher levels of government especially when the Communist Party of China decides to yield more power to the village administration. Though China has experimented with democracy at the lowest level of administration that is, village level, but the democracy is only for namesake. From the candidates to the working of the committee all are handled from above. Thus, unlike media reports last year on the Wukan revolt which projected it as a spark for similar revolts, as an example it has completely failed. It could not even bring the desired change in Wukan itself.

Namrata Hasija
Research Officer, CRP, IPCS
email: [email protected]


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IPCS

IPCS

IPCS (Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies) conducts independent research on conventional and non-conventional security issues in the region and shares its findings with policy makers and the public. It provides a forum for discussion with the strategic community on strategic issues and strives to explore alternatives. Moreover, it works towards building capacity among young scholars for greater refinement of their analyses of South Asian security.

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