Wukan denies land protest aims at revolt
By Olivia Chung
HONG KONG - The southern Chinese village of Wukan, nestling in an area that was
birthplace of the country's first communist revolution, is fending off claims
it is starting another revolt centered around a land development dispute - but
with the local government having fled in the face of furious citizens, and the
village blockaded by police, something is in the air.
County Garden Holdings, a Hong Kong-listed property developer at the heart of
the increasingly angry protests, denies it has agreed on any development with
the local authority.
More than 6,000 local people have clashed with authorities whom they claim have
robbed them of their land and of a village leader, Xue Jinbo, who died this
month in police custody. They threatened to widen their protests with a march
to the nearby
county town of Lufeng on Wednesday if Xue's body was not returned to them along
with four other villagers in policy custody.
To thwart the march, the Shanwei city government, which oversees Lufeng, on
Monday offered compensation to affected villagers in Wukan, a fishing village
about 123 kilometers east of Hong Kong in Guangdong - which merely raised
tensions further. The officials also pledged that no military will be involved.
"What the Shanwei government has promised clearly implies that our land will be
sold," said Yang Semao, chairman of the village's temporary ruling committee.
"What we want is our land back and justice over Xue's death!"
The villagers also called for a transparent election to select a village
committee to replace the officials who fled. Party secretary Xue Chang has held
his post, the most senior in the village, for more than four decades. Xue and
vice secretary Chen Shuiyi, who were removed from their positions on December
12, have been put under shuanggui - a form of detention that requires
suspects to make themselves available to investigators at a specific time and
place, according to the mainland media.
Zheng Yanxiong, the Shanwei party secretary, told mainland media on Monday that
villagers' requests were now being handled by the Shanwei government.
Earlier, a villager named Cai told Asia Times Online by phone that residents
were calling on the central government to investigate the local troubles, as
the months-long protest has not been responded to locally and the Lufeng county
government "could not be trusted".
Protests have escalated since September 21, when a dispute erupted with the
village government over the seizure of land for business development projects.
Local people claim a secret land deal had been made between the town government
and the business sector.
Cai said the town government grabbed more than 400 hectares of farmland from
villagers and sold it to businesses, including Country Garden Holdings. Much of
the anger concerns the transfer by some villagers in 1997 of ownership of more
than 33 hectares of farmland to a Hong Kong businessman to run a pig farm. That
contract expired this year, and it is claimed the land was resold by the
government to Country Garden for a residential project, without villagers'
Cai said "such illegal land grabs by local authorities are rampant across the
mainland China but we, the villagers, have to speak out - or how can we make
The villagers have been given 3,300,000 yuan (US$520,000) compensation for the
400 hectares of farmland, although it is worth more than 1 billion yuan,
according to Cai.
In what was seen as an attempt to defuse the row, the government had asked the
villagers to choose representatives for talks. The representative committee was
then branded illegal and on December 9, five were arrested including Xue Jinbo,
who was was held on charges of damaging property and disturbing the peace. He
died two days later in custody - police said of a heart attack, relatives said
he was beaten to death.
The arrests ended the peaceful aspect of the protest, prompting villagers to
attack government buildings and overturn police cars. Now the government hall
lies vacant with doors and gates open. The police station has also been
abandoned. Police blocking the main entrance to the village are turning food
trucks and outsiders away, although large numbers of foreign media
representatives have made it into the village, Cai said.
"We are allowed to leave the village, but the police check our identity when we
go back," said Cai. "We are not short of food now, with some rich people buying
rice to distribute to poor villagers, and neighboring villages are bringing
food through side roads and selling it to us at low prices," he said.
The villagers are keen for the protection of the media to remain, but they are
also anxious their rebellion is being wrongly portrayed as a movement to bring
down the central government.
After the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921, Lufeng and
neighboring Haifeng were the first villages to organize a revolutionary
movement, led by Peng Bai, a Haifeng native who pioneered building of rural
guerilla bases long before Chinese leader Mao Zedong started his in Jinggang
Mountain in east China's Jiangxi province. There’s a saying on the mainland,
there is Thunder God in haven, while Haifeng and Lufeng on earth.
"We love the Communist Party," said Cai. "We want the leaders in Beijing to
come down and give us justice against the corrupt local officials."
Temporary village chairman Yang, addressing a rally on Monday, asked foreign
media representatives not to use the term "uprising" to describe their protests
as the villagers still trusted the Communist Party and the central government.
A spokeswoman for Country Garden denied that the company had owned land or
signed any land deal in Lufeng.
"We don't have any land in Lufeng, nor any property development projects there.
And we haven't signed any contracts with Wukan village over land sales," the
However, what she said apparently contradicts the Lufeng government, which said
it will freeze a co-operative project with Country Garden.
Country Garden shares, which have also been hit by a declining mainland
property market, have tumbled more than 32% to HK$2.85 from a three-year high
of HK$4.16 on August 1. The benchmark Hang Seng Index is down about 20% in the
Olivia Chung is a senior Asia Times Online reporter.
(Copyright 2011 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please
contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)