Protesters in southern China are up in arms. They feel that Beijing’s promises that they’d be able to vote for their own local leaders have been honored in the breach. They’re outraged at the show of force in the face of peaceful protest, and confronted with superior government might, they are using the power of numbers and the reach of social media to make their voices heard. Readers would be forgiven for thinking the above to be a description of Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protests in October 2014 and a subsequent independence movement have captured global attention. But it also depicts Wukan, a small mainland Chinese village about a three and-a-half-hour drive east of the former British colony. In December 2011, it became a global symbol for a new style of Chinese governance when a citizen uprising against illegal land seizures and a brief exercise in self-rule during a police blockade elicited promises of village-level democratization from Beijing. Now citizen unrest is making headlines once again.
The latest round of unrest began after erstwhile protest leader Lin Zulian, who had governed as popularly elected village secretary since 2012, was detained on a June evening. Shortly before, Lin had pledged renewed demonstrations calling for restitution for improper land grabs. Western media described “tensions” growing thereafter; on June 18, public security in Lufeng, the municipality that contains Wukan, issued an official order calling on villagers not to let “illegal elements” imperil the village’s “hard-won stability.” On September 8, the verdict came down: Lin was sentenced to 37 months in prison and a fine of about U.S.$30,000 for bribery and kickbacks totaling about U.S.$88,000; he has pledged not to appeal. (Although Lin confessed to receiving kickbacks, many Wukan residents told NPR they thought it was staged.)
On September 13, after what appear to have been days of street-level protests in Wukan, riot police descended on the village of about 13,000, arresting 13 on suspicions of disturbing public order, a charge commonly used against protesters in China. Photos circulated on social media also claim to show villagers injured by police; one widely-shared video depicts armored forces retreating under a hail of debris from angry citizens.
Full Article: The Chinese Democratic Experiment that Never Was | ChinaFile.