By B. Raman
The Chinese leadership has been unnerved by the persisting and spreading protest of the people of Wukan, a fishing village ( population 13000) in the Guangdong province of Southern China, where the Chinese economic miracle started in the 1990s and which is always projected as a “showcase” province of China.
The protest movement was initially directed against forcible land acquisitions at arbitrarily low prices by the local authorities. It has since turned into a protest against the alleged death of a protester in police custody and against the illegal detention of four other protesters by the police.
Wukan has been the scene of sporadic protests against arbitrary land acquisitions for months. The present protest started in September when plans for the construction of a residential project were announced. This involved the acquisition of valuable farm land for the project.
The protest has now assumed an uncontrollable dimension for the last 10 days following the death of a protester who was arrested by the local police. The police have claimed that he died of a heart attack, but the villagers have alleged that he was beaten to death by the police.
Shops and schools have been closed in the village for the last one week and police reinforcements have been rushed from adjoining villages and towns. The police have reportedly blockaded the village to prevent the protesters from visiting other villages to gather support.
The protesters have driven out local officials of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and occupied the local offices of the party. On December 18, they warned that if the body of the protester was not handed over to them and if the four protesters in police custody are not released by December 21, they would march to the offices of the Government located at nearby Lufeng city and occupy them too.
The protesters have accused the police of trying to starve the local villagers into submission by stopping the flow of essential commodities into the village from adjoining villages.
News and pictures of the protest movement have been spreading across China through micro-blogs despite the efforts of the Ministry of Public Security to block them. According to Radio Free Asia, funded by the US State Department, a video showing several thousand villagers congregating at the Mazu Temple in Wukan village, near the port city of Shanwei, was posted on popular microblogging sites Sina and Tencent Weibo, and was quickly removed by censors. The video showed large numbers of villagers sitting on the ground in the temple courtyard in protest at the detention of their representatives by police. “Down with corrupt officials!” the crowd chanted, then, “Compensation for blood spilled!”
The Government has imposed new restrictions regarding registration for microblogs making it obligatory for service providers to verify the identities of the microbloggers before allowing them to use assumed names and to share the real identities with the Ministry of Public Security when called upon to do so in the interest of internal security.
This has had no effect on the micro-bloggers, who continue to disseminate news and pics of the unrest in the Wukan village. The Government is worried that the unrest is being orchestrated by unpatriotic elements to cause internal confusion and political instability in the months preceding important Party and National People’s Congress (NPC) meetings early next year to designate the new leadership of the Party and the State to take over from the present leadership when it completes its tenure in 2012 and 2013.
The following tweet , which is believed to have originated in Honolulu, has been circulating in the internet: “This only the beginning. The beginning of an end of a regime. Stand strong people, united for your cause. Some people already gave their lives; don’t let them go to waste.”
The Government’s concerns were enhanced on December 18 when a small protest in sympathy with the villagers of Wukan was held in Guangzhou, the capital of the province.
The seriousness of the concerns of the Party and the Government over the situation would be evident from the cancellation, announced on December 13, of the scheduled visits of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to Nepal and Myanmar in December. Even though the Chinese Embassies in Nepal and Myanmar have attributed the cancellation to Wen’s preoccupation with preparations for the Party and NPC meetings next year, many attribute the cancellations to the worries of the leadership over dangers of internal political instability.