Chinese Village Besieged After Protests

Wukan_Shrine_b_sm

By Correspondents
IPS | Al Jazeera

DOHA – A standoff between villagers and police is continuing in southern China, where police have sealed off the village of Wukan in an attempt to quell an uprising, witnesses say.

Villagers have taken control of the town after staging protests over government land seizures and the death of a village leader in police custody last week [first week of December 2011].

In response, authorities have cut off food supplies to the village of about 20,000 people in Guangdong province.

Villagers have draped Wukan with banners carrying protest slogans such as, “We want our land back,” “Fight corruption,” and appeals to journalists to report the story in the international media (Credit: Baptiste Favelloz, France24).

A journalist in the village told Al Jazeera that Wednesday was the fourth straight day of the siege, with no signs that the villagers would budge.

“Police tried to retake the village on Sunday with a thousand armed police firing teargas and water cannons at villagers,”

Malcolm Moore of the British Daily Telegraph newspaper said.

“But villagers stood firm and police fell back to form a cordon around the village, now basically choking off all supplies of food and water, waiting for the village to surrender.

“There are no police or government officials left in the village. All of them have been driven out by angry villagers.”

Moore said he was told by locals that they had about 10 days of food supplies left and had no intention of giving up their resistance.

Violent protests

Tensions rose in September 2011 when protests by hundreds of villagers over a land dispute turned violent, with residents smashing buildings, overturning vehicles and clashing with police.

Residents complained that their farmland was sold by local officials to developers to build factories without their consent.

On Sunday, Xue Jinbo, a man accused of participating in the September land protest, died in police custody, further angering residents, who suspected he was beaten.

Following news of Xue Jinbo’s death, villagers built a structure to house a shrine in his memory. Dressed in traditional funeral garb, locals burn incense and mourn before his portrait (Credit: Baptiste Favelloz, France24).

Chinese media reported that local police and provincial authorities said Xue died of cardiac failure.

The local seaport has been blocked, and residents said they were prevented from fishing.

Villager Qiu Yankun said even children who would normally have gone to school in a nearby town were staying at home because the school buses were not allowed to enter the village.

Amateur video posted online on Monday December 12, 2011 showed hundreds of villagers gathered for a protest, shouting

“Down with corrupt officials” and “Give us back our land”.

Land disputes have grown apace, becoming one of the leading causes of the tens of thousands of large-scale protests that hit China every year.

Around Wukan village and in much of the rest of Guangdong province, conflicts have been intense because the area is among China’s most economically developed, pushing up land prices.

Sources: IPS | Al Jazeera | Photos and video added by Haiti Chery

Detailed article and professional video about the events that led to the siege are below.

Inside Wukan: The Chinese village that fought back

By Malcolm Moore
The Telegraph

Wukan – For the first time on record, the Chinese Communist party has lost all control, with the population of 20,000 in this southern fishing village now in open revolt.

Thousands of Wukan residents protest in front of their village hall (Photo: Malcom Moore).

Armed police in riot gear man a roadblock on a route to the village of Wukan (Photo: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images).

The last of Wukan’s dozen party officials fled on Monday December 12, 2011 after thousands of people blocked armed police from retaking the village, standing firm against tear gas and water cannons.

Since then, the police have retreated to a roadblock, some three miles away, in order to prevent food and water from entering, and villagers from leaving. Wukan’s fishing fleet, its main source of income, has also been stopped from leaving harbour.

The plan appears to be to lay siege to Wukan and choke a rebellion which began three months ago when an angry mob, incensed at having the village’s land sold off, rampaged through the streets and overturned cars.

Although China suffers an estimated 180,000 “mass incidents” a year, it is unheard of for the Party to sound a retreat.

But on Tuesday The Daily Telegraph managed to gain access through a tight security cordon and witnessed the new reality in this coastal village.

Thousands of Wukan’s residents, incensed at the death of one of their leaders in police custody, gathered for a second day in front of a triple-roofed pagoda that serves as the village hall.

For five hours they sat on long benches, chanting, punching the air in unison and working themselves into a fury.

At the end of the day, a fifteen minute period of mourning for their fallen villager saw the crowd convulsed in sobs and wailing for revenge against the local government.

“Return the body! Return our brother! Return our farmland! Wukan has been wronged! Blood debt must be paid! Where is justice?”

the crowd screamed out.

Wukan’s troubles began in September, when the villagers’ collective patience snapped at an attempt to take away their land and sell it to property developers.

“Almost all of our land has been taken away from us since the 1990s but we were relaxed about it before because we made our money from fishing,”

said Yang Semao, one of the village elders.

“Now, with inflation rising, we realise we should grow more food and that the land has a high value.”

Thousands of villagers stormed the local government offices, chasing out the party secretary who had governed Wukan for three decades. In response, riot police flooded the village, beating men, women and children indiscriminately, according to the villagers.

In the aftermath, the local government tried to soothe the bruised villagers, asking them to appoint 13 of their own to mediate between the two sides – a move which was praised. But after anger bubbled over again local officials hatched another plan to bring the rebellious village back under control. On Friday, December 9, 2011, at 11:45 in the morning, four minibuses without license plates drove into Wukan and a team of men in plain clothes seized five of the village’s 13 representatives from a roadside restaurant.

A second attack came at 4 am on Sunday morning, when a thousand armed police approached the entrance to the village.

“We had a team of 20 people watching out, and they saw the police searchlights. We had blocked the road with fallen trees to buy us time,”

said Chen Xidong, a 23 year old.

“They banged the warning drum and the entire village ran to block the police.”

After a tense two-hour standoff, during which the villagers were hit with tear gas and water cannons, the police retreated, instead setting up the ring of steel around Wukan that is in force today. The village’s only source of food, at present, are the baskets of rice, fruit and vegetables carried across the fields on the shoulder poles of friendly neighbours.

Then, on Monday, came the news that Xue Jinbo, one of the snatched representatives, had died in police custody, at the age of 43, from a heart attack. His family believe he was murdered.

“There were cuts and bruises on the corners of his mouth and on his forehead, and both his nostrils were full of blood,”

said Xue Jianwan, his 21-year-old daughter.

“His chest was grazed and his thumbs looked like they had been broken backwards. Both his knees were black,” she added.

“They refused to release the body to us.”

Mr Xue’s death has galvanised his supporters and brought the explosive situation in the village to the brink.

“We are not sleeping. A hundred men are keeping watch. We do not know what the government’s next move will be, but we know we cannot trust them ever again,” said Mr Chen.

“I think they will try to prolong the situation, to sweat us out.”

From behind the roadblock, a propaganda war has broken out. Banners slung by the side of the main road to Wukan urge drivers to

“Safeguard stability against anarchy – Support the government!”

Nearby, someone has scrawled, simply:

“Give us back our land.”

The news of Wukan’s loss has been censored inside China. But a blue screen, which interrupts television programmes every few minutes inside the village, insists that the “incidents” are the work of a seditious minority, and have now been calmed.

“It is all lies,” said Ms Xue.

Her brother, meanwhile, said life had improved since the first officials were driven out three months ago.

“We found we were better at administration. The old officials turned out not to have had any accounts in their office, so they must have been swindling us. And we have a nightwatch now, to keep the village safe. We have all bonded together,”

said Xue Jiandi, 19.

With enough food to keep going in the short-term and a pharmacy to tend to the sick, the leaders of Wukan are confident about their situation.

But it is difficult to imagine that it will be long before the Communist Party returns, and there are still four villagers in police custody.

“I have just been to see my 25-year-old son,”

Shen Shaorong, the mother of Zhang Jianding, one of the four, said as she cried on her knees.

“He has been beaten to a pulp and his clothes were ripped. Please tell the government in Beijing to help us before they kill us all.”

Source: The Telegraph

UPDATE #1, December 18, 2011 (Financial Times UK).  Wukan residents are governing themselves and evading the blockade by smuggling in foods and sending out news. A village committee, which has replaced the town officials, assigns jobs to villagers that include guarding the village perimeter, organizing for rice and other food staples, coordinating daily mass rallies, and running a media centre “where foreign reporters file stories and are fed and billeted.”

UPDATE #2, December 18, 2011 (Telegraph UK). Rattled Communist Party chiefs asked to enter the village to discuss an end to the week-long stand off with villagers but were refused by villagers who demanded Xue’s body as a precondition to any talks.

UPDATE #3, December 19, 2011 (Telegraph UK). Villagers will march peacefully on Wednesday December 21 to the perimeter of the village, with a coffin and Xue’s family leading the march, to demand the body for burial.

UPDATE #4, December 20, 2011 (Telegraph UK). Protests spread to Haimen, another province of Guangdong.

UPDATE #5, December 21, 2011 (Reuters). Senior officials have negotiated with villagers and made a number of concessions, including promises of: an impartial autopsy for Xue, release of three villagers who were being held by the local govt, democratic elections for the village, and an agreement not to build on the disputed lands.

UPDATE #6, March 12, 2012. Residents of China’s Wukan Village Elect Own Leaders
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