Adam Ford reports on the Wukan rebellion and asks what it means for the future of social struggles in China
The villagers of Wukan in south-east China appear to have won a victory over the misnamed Communist Party regime, and prevented the sale of some communal land. This triumph is the result of direct action, direct democracy, and the community’s ability to get the word out, in spite of government censorship. These factors will be crucial in 2012, as factory workers come into conflict with multinational corporations in the cities.
The struggle began in September, when Wukan residents became suspicious that the local government was in the process of selling common farming land to Country Garden - a company which builds residences for the rich. The 21st sawhundreds of villagers gathered at nearby Communist Party offices, to nonviolently protest against the sale. But as crowds grew and grew in numbers, so too did their confidence. Protesters began blocking roads and attacking buildings in an industrial park.
Three villagers were arrested at the Communist HQ demonstrations, and the next day hundreds laid siege to the police station, demanding their release. The state responded to this challenge with unrestrained ferocity, with police and mercenaries beating villagers apparently without discrimination – men and women, children and the elderly.
Cops were eventually called back to their posts, and the government struck a conciliatory tone, even asking villagers to elect delegates who could air their grievances. In retrospect, this seems to have been a ploy to uncover the ‘leadership’. One of these – respected village butcher Xue Jinbo – died in police custody, apparently the victim of a state killing. The state news agency claimed that Xue was the victim of a heart attack, but the bruised knees, bloodied nostrils and broken thumbs reported by his son in law indicate this took place under torture.
What happened next stunned Beijing authorities, and sent shockwaves around the world in mid-December. The furious Wukan villagers banded together and drove the police and Communist Party officials out of town. They then set about running things for themselves.