For the past week, residents of Wukan in China’s southern Guangdong province have seized control of their fishing village of 13,000, following the death of an elected village leader, 42-year-old Xue Jinbo, while in police custody. Xue was abducted on December 9 while he was seeking to resolve a land dispute between villagers and the local government: The villagers of Wukan had been protesting since September over what they say was a secret decision to sell a large tract of village land, including much of their farmland, to a Hong Kong-listed developer, Country Gardens, which is one of the largest real-estate developers in China.
On December 11, local authorities told villagers that Xue had died of a heart attack. But relatives who saw his body said it showed signed of abuse — blood, bruises, a broken thumb — and are demanding that Xue’s body be returned within five days or they will march on government offices in the administrative center in Lufeng.
The outrage of the villagers resulted in Wukan’s nine-member village committee fleeing, Ling Zuluan, described as the villagers’ “de facto leader,” said that officials from Lufeng had come to Wukan for talks on December 15, but no mention had been made of returning Xue’s body.
While police are blockading roads to Wukan, and also access to it by river and ocean, it is said to be still “possible to surreptitiously enter and leave” the village. Protest leaders say that authorities have sought to deny them medication and food, but shops in Wukan are reportedly stocked and supplies provided from nearby villages.
As the New York Times notes, it is “unclear what outside authorities would do about the demand and whether the protesters could in fact carry out their threat of a march.” Villagers are said to be hoping that Beijing might intervene but so far officials from China’s capital have been silent. Wukan’s residents are worried about what could happen if Beijing does not step in, as the New York Times reports:
“Our original intent was just to get our land back,” a 29-year-old homemaker who identified herself only as Mrs. Zhu said as she stood under a Chinese flag, mounted on a makeshift pole at a protesters’ checkpoint on the village outskirts. “We never intended that things would get into such a situation.”
Asked what could be done, she replied: “We have to fight to the end. That’s the only way out. If we retreat now, all the hardships the government imposed on us will come true.”
Photo of farmers in rural southern China by Andy Siitonen
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