Disquieting Peace at Wukan Village

December 27, 2011 Updated: January 1, 2012
Wukan villagers listen to a speech by village leader Lin Zuluan
Wukan villagers listen to a speech by village leader Lin Zuluan after he met with a senior government official and reached an agreement over illegal land grabs and the death in custody of a local leader. Chinese authorities agreed to release three villagers detained for leading September protests against land grabs. Wukan, Guangdong Province, Dec. 21, 2011. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

The standoff in Wukan between villagers and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities, which began on Dec. 14 and left one man dead, has come to a conclusion. But while three captive village representatives have been conditionally released, the verbal agreements between the two sides leave questions as to whether authorities will honor their promises.

Residents in the embattled Wukan Village, in the southern province of Guangdong, have scored some remarkable successes in their standoff over illegal land expropriations by corrupt local officials. But their fight may not be over.

Since the arrest of five village representatives on Dec. 9, the Lufeng TV Station continuously aired a bulletin urging two key village representatives, Lin Zuluan and Yang Semao, to surrender to authorities. At the same time, paramilitary police repeatedly threatened to arrest the two men, and authorities sent two “special envoys,” one being Lin’s oldest son, who is an employee of the Dongguan municipal government, to try to persuade Lin to excuse himself from village affairs, according to Hong Kong-based Asia Weekly reports.

Matters took a turn on Dec. 21, when the deputy party secretary of Guangdong Province, Zhu Mingguo, met with Lin and verbally agreed to the villagers’ three demands: release the captive villagers; return the body of Xue Jinbo, the village representative who died in police custody; and acknowledge the newly formed village committee as legal.

Shortly after the negotiating began, villagers started removing the blockades they had set up when the paramilitary police attempted to besiege the village, and around the same time the police began withdrawing troops from Wukan.

Discrepancies and Distrust

According to China News Service, a provincial working group started investigating the [illegal] land sales in Wukan on Dec. 23, saying the entire village responded “very enthusiastically” and people were quick to provide key information and evidence.

However, villagers told The Epoch Times that the village committee had advised them not to casually sign any papers, even if the authorities prompted them to do so. One villager said they no longer trusted the authorities. “Who knows if the signature is for the land sales or to be used for future retaliation,” he said.

Government vehicles return to Wukan
Government vehicles return to Wukan as village leader Lin Zuluan met with a senior government official to reach an agreement over illegal land grabs and the death in custody of a local leader in Wukan, Guangdong Province on Dec. 21, 2011. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Authorities also have not released the body of Xue Jinbo. A villager by the last name of Wu told The Epoch Times that the Guangdong Province deputy party secretary told Xue’s family that authorities want to hold his body for an autopsy, overriding the family’s request for an independent examination.

The three village representatives were released on Dec. 22 and 23, but not unconditionally. Their families said they were released on bail, and family members had to provide thumbprints on a “Suspect Leniency” document.

The Epoch Times called one of the three village representatives named Zhuang. He said they were required to sign a “guarantee statement” before their release, and he therefore had to decline an interview.

According to the Oriental Daily, the freed village representatives said police tied them to a “tiger bench,” a notorious form of torture condoned by the regime, and interrogated them around the clock, forcing them to confess that they had been in collusion with foreign forces and had taken orders from them to participate in the protests.

One of them told Ming Pao, after being interrogated for 31 hours, he was on the verge of going insane. He then considered ending his life by banging his head against the wall.

What Lies Ahead

An article published in Woman’s Rights in China provided examples of popular feedback on the village crisis: “Villagers now don’t like to talk much; the three villagers who were released could be taken away anytime, new banners that read ‘Harsh Crackdown on Anarchic Actions’ and ‘Strike Hard on Mafia,’ keep popping up in the streets; members of the special task force and plainclothes police can be seen walking around the village; it feels like they are biding their time for punishment is a widely maintained sentiment.”

Villagers worry that communist party authorities will eventually take over their village committee, and their elected representatives will be removed and arrested, the article said.

A blogger calling himself Brave Countryman said in a microblog that [Guangdong deputy party secretary] Zhu’s verbal agreements with [village representative] Lin contradicts what Zhu had said in a big cadre meeting at the Lufeng municipal government on Dec. 20. “What’s the use of verbal agreements without the presence of a third party?” he asked.

“Zhu’s verbal promise carries no weight,” Pu Fei, a China expert and volunteer for the Chinese human rights advocacy website 64tianwang.com, told New Tang Dynasty, an independent Chinese television network in New York. Pu added that many Chinese intellectuals have posted commentaries on microblog about Guangdong Province party secretary Wang Yang’s “new thinking.” But they did it to cooperate with the authorities to divert people’s attention, and to allow time for future reprisals from the regime.

U.S. based Chinese economist and writer, He Qinglian, said in a Twitter blog that retaliation by the CCP against Wukan villagers is inevitable, or it would not be the CCP. It is just a matter of how and when, what excuse to use and to what extent to go to.

Twenty-year-old Zhang Jianxing, one of the organizers of the group called the “Wukan Young Enthusiasts,” said in a blog, “Today I can only say I have seen the light of the dawn, but have yet to be embraced by the warm sun.”

Zhang told Asia Weekly he was planning to find work in Hong Kong and northern China after this matter is over.

“I’ll run as far away as I can. Who knows whether they will be handing down punishment later,” he said.