Chinese Village Focus of Internal Communist Party Conflict

December 22, 2011 8:18 am Last Updated: October 1, 2015 2:58 pm
Wukan villagers protest
When the Wukan villagers expelled CCP officials, it marked the first time that the CCP had lost its control over people. (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)



In Wukan Village in Guangdong Province, China, villagers have been protesting for months to have a say in their own affairs—to elect their own village officials and to refuse having their land taken away from them. When Communist Party officials at the county-level on Dec. 20 agreed, with important reservations, to the villagers’ demands, the temperature was raised in an ongoing conflict about the direction of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

There are two political forces inside the CCP. The conservative faction, represented by Bo Xilai, wants to return to the time of Mao Zedong. The reforming faction, represented by Wang Yang, the Party head of Guangdong Province, hopes that China can gradually take the path of democracy.

If the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, is the CCP official who talks the most about democracy, Wang is the one who has done the most for democracy.

In Guangzhou on Nov. 18 hundreds of workers paraded on the street asking for higher wages. Wang sent police cars to escort them. This was unprecedented in the history of the CCP.

On Nov. 21, nearly 4,000 villagers in Wukan paraded to the Lufeng City municipal building. The acting Mayor of Lufeng City, Qiu Jinxiong, met with the villagers, interrogated and detained the village cadre whom the villagers accused, and promised a thorough investigation.

The villagers returned safely. Afterwards, Qiu recognized the legitimacy of the village council that the villagers had elected on their own, without the regime’s participation, and gave wages to the council representatives—1,000 yuan (approximately US$157.79) per month for two months for each representative.

The vice chairman of the council, Xue Jinbo, however, probably became a victim of the ongoing power struggle. He was arrested on Dec. 9, and his family received a notice two days later, saying Xue had died of heart disease. The family was allowed to view but not remove the body. It was covered with bruises, the skull and sternum were broken, and fingernails had been pulled off. Xue was apparently tortured to death.

We can guess that those who arrested and killed Xue Jinbo were not Wang’s people. They might be from the political and law enforcement system. Zhou Yongkang, the boss of public security, is a member of the conservative faction in the CCP. The conservatives may have wanted to intensify the intra-party conflict and challenge Wang Yang.

If Wang can stick to the path of peace, instead of armed repression, and pacify the people through compromise, he may increase his chances of being chosen in 2012 to join the Central Committee—the nine CCP members who rule China.

Wang seems to want the news to get out about events in Wukan. Foreign reporters were allowed to enter the village, which goes against the CCP’s time-tested playbook of repression. With the reporters present, Wukan became a show at which the whole world could witness Wang’s open-mindedness.

Nevertheless, Wang can’t make good on his promise of liberality. The success of the Wukan villagers will inspire all of the landless farmers in China to follow the Wukan example. They will also stand up to fight back, and the CCP’s regime will not be stable.

The CCP has no choice but to continue the policy of suppression, and this includes Wang. Sooner or later, notwithstanding the assurances just made to the Wukan villagers, Wang will still have to raise the knife. Not only Wang, but Party head Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao face this dilemma in dealing with the confrontation between the regime and the people.

Meanwhile, the experiment in Wukan is showing how unnecessary the Party’s rule is. The democratically elected village council has not only led the villagers to peacefully defend themselves against invasion by the police, they have also given help to the poor.

The whole village of over 10,000 people is in good order. There are no thieves and people don’t even close their doors at night. There are no more village cadres bullying villagers, and people help one another. All villagers discuss everything together. Under the “anarchy” of self-government, the management of everything is much better than in the past.

The people of China are watching and in Wukan they see clearly: Without the Communist Party, life is better.