The battle of Wukan – One village’s attempt to throw out corrupt officials and end land grabs

This is a developing story, and while I usually don’t comment on “sensitive” events as they happen, the stakes seem to be much higher this time.

In a small village in Guangdong, the villagers have staged a revolt. All government officials and police have fled the village after months of demonstrations sparked by land grabs and public funds that seem to have gone missing.

Now the village, and its thousands of inhabitants, are encircled by armed police who are demanding they give up their cause and return to normal life. The villagers however are insisting that the local gov’t apologize for the violence they have used against the people (including the death of an organizer while he was in police custody), as well as be given the right to throw out the corrupt officials and hold elections to choose new leaders.

I believe that one of the only reasons that this rebellion has not yet been crushed is that the villagers still have faith in the national gov’t and are only moving against their village officials. According to the villagers, Beijing (or CCTV or someone else) is going to be sending an inspection team tomorrow to assess the situation.

This means that local officials could feel pressure to regain control tonight. The latest reports showed that officials have started offering food to those who will sign a document that states they do not oppose the land sale, and have declared that the organizers will be punished. (To help put the village into context read- The importance of a hometown)

Your interest in this story could effect what happens next. International pressure has in the past led to further restraint from local gov’t officials. Your attention is also important because censorship efforts within China have effectively stopped the discussion of Wukan within the country, meaning that international coverage is the only coverage (Yaxue’s weibo account was deleted shortly after she re-posted information about the uprising).

When I showed the article to one of my co-workers she gasped at the sight of thousands of villagers standing behind a banner that begs, “Is democracy a crime?” and another that reads, “Blood debts must be repaid with blood.”

Image from Malcolm Moore's article that appeared in The Telegraph yesterday

Then my co-worker told me this story:

Last night, I asked my husband, is China’s situation good or bad. He said, “Imagine that you are a sheep, and you have a choice between being hunted by a wolf or two lions. You might want to choose the wolf because he says that he will only eat one sheep every day, and the lions say that they will eat three. So one wolf seems like the much better choice. Later though you would realize that it was a foolish decision. The two lions would watch each other to make sure that they only eat the agreed number of sheep each day, but who watches the wolf? The wolf will eat all of the sheep, because no one will stop him.”

She then explained that the lions represent a democracy, while the wolf represents a one party system like China’s (just in case I had missed the metaphor).

“So which one did you choose” I asked.

“At first I chose the wolf,” she said, “but after my husband explained it to me, I thought ‘oh, lions really are a good thing.'”

Support the people of Wukan by continuing to follow this story

Malcolm Moore from the Telegraph, who deserves credit for bringing this story into the spotlight, managed to make it inside the village and published these three accounts, he also posted additional information on his G+ page:

Charlie from has also done an incredible job of gathering information and pictures from Weibo that have to be seen. It is hard to imagine the size of these gatherings and the brutality of the police without seeing it.

Finally, China Media Project, also has a great article that helps frame Wukan in a larger context and includes a propaganda video released by the local gov’t.

Addition from Yaxue:

A few thoughts about Wukan:

1. Wukan is different. While land grabs and corruption is rampant everywhere, petitioners tend to protest individually, but this is 10,000+ people bound together.

2. The first movers of Wukan protest are young people. The youngest is only 20 years old (now detained by the police), but incredibly informed and savvy about internet use. They made movies about the village’s recent history of land sale and other corruption issues, and shown them to villagers so that everyone is on the same page. They are highly organized and call themselves “Wukan Hot-blooded Youth League.”

3. Typical Guangdong families, Wukan without exception, have relatives overseas, and response from the latter will help the Wukan cause, I am hoping.

4. The party’s responses, to no one’s surprise, have been their usual reflexes: mutilate the facts to fit their own needs better; detain leaders and torture them to break their will; accuse “overseas anti-China element” for inciting a revolt; blablabla. When are they going to start thinking differently? I am losing my patience.

5. Amazingly, the villagers are putting their faith in the central government. They believe it is the local government that is bad. We will see. I am not so sure, and I fear for them.

6. This can be 1989 all over again, except it is by the farmers.

7. Pray for the people of Wukan, young and old, women and men. I can’t stand to hear any death anymore.

8. Finally, the longer story of my short-lived Weibo account: The first couple of weeks, I didn’t make a peep on Weibo, and all I did was reading and gathering what I wanted for Heard on Weibo translation. Then I started posting information about Chen Guangcheng that was not readily available in China. For about three or four weeks or so, I was fine (to my surprise). Then three days ago, shortly after I posted the news that Wukan was under, my account was deleted, so thoroughly that I can’t even get on the home page of I am working on getting back on.

13 responses to “The battle of Wukan – One village’s attempt to throw out corrupt officials and end land grabs”

  1. Andrew The says:

    “At first I chose the wolf,” she said, “but after my husband explained it to me, I thought ‘oh, lions really are a good thing.’”

    Crap. They should take her husband and make him leader of China.

    No, wait… the next President of the US. He’s shown more wisdom in that one metaphor than any of our current options.

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      The lions as “democracy” is interesting. Presumably the comparison is between socialism with Chinese characteristics (i.e. totalitarian capitalism) and capitalism with democratic characteristics. Looked at that way, you’re right about the husband’s wisdom. Still, as leader of China, hopefully he would come up with a third, vegetarian option. Also, I’m not sure how much faith these villagers have in the central government, but the outcome of their protest will no doubt solidify or destroy whatever of that trust remains.

      • Andrew The says:

        “The lions as “democracy” is interesting.”

        I think that’s what makes it particularly appropriate.

        The easy thing to do when oppressed by a particular system is to romanticize an opposing system. Capitalism and democracy are not inherently benevolent, however, and come with their own evils. One of the things that bothers me most about democracy is that power necessarily comes to those who seek it — and those men are often the least deserving.

        “Still, as leader of China, hopefully he would come up with a third, vegetarian option.”

        I would hope so too, but the Calvinist in me is skeptical that there can be such a system when ruled by men. Personally, I think just about any governmental system can be beneficial when under just rulers who govern apart from their own self-interests. Such men seem to be rather rare birds, unfortunately.

  2. Yaxue C. says:

    Correction: “shortly after I posted the news that Wukan was under siege”

  3. Yaxue C. says:

    Since I will be one of them soon hopefully, I would take the opportunity to explain a Weibo term: 转世党,zhuan3 shi4 dang3, or the Reincarnation Party. This refers to outspoken weibo users who have been blocked repeatedly but keep coming back with suffixes, such as 二世 (the second),三世(the third), so on and so forth, to their previous names, so that their followers can find them easily.

    In their ranks is your illustrious Ai Weiwei, who I believe is now in his 30th+ reincarnation, who sometimes had to be “reborn” two or three times a day. A netizen cried out the other day, “You were in your 27th reincarnation earlier the day, how did you jump to the 30th at the end of the day? What happened to the 28th and the 29th?”

  4. Excellent post Tom; one I will follow to the end. I first read of this incident last night on MSNBC and was talking about it all day to my Chinese friends and colleagues. They hadn’t heard anything about it – no surprise at all since it is feverishly being scrubbed from the Internet by the Central Government. I am rooting for the 20,000 villagers of Wukan to send a message loud and clear to the CCP, to the 1,000s of other Chinese villages that have been mistreated by its own government, and to the people of the world. This is truly a defining moment for the CCP. They must choose to protect and serve the people of Wukan or punish them for not allowing corruption to rule as it does everyday in this land. Either choice will hurt the Party in the short term and may end up being the spark that ignites what could be Part II of the Tianeman Square incident.

  5. Chopstik says:

    Still following this story and it continues to grow – especially on the international front. I can’t make predictions but I hope that the party will step in and do their normal thing – alleviate the current situation by temporarily punishing the local officials (though this will certainly not do anything for the long run and will probably be even worse for the locals in Wukan) and stopping the land grabs. If they don’t and there is a crackdown – I don’t think it will be held by the GFW and it could spark much larger protests and a much larger belief throughout the rest of the country that the national government will only support corrupt local officials.

    That this is normally the case is irrelevant – there is a still a majority who believe otherwise. When that belief fails, the repercussions could be very serious and detrimental to the nation as a whole.

    Tom/Yaxue, would you be willing to provide your email? I’d like to ask you a question offline, please. Thanks

  6. Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:

    BBC Radio 4 news programme “PM at 5pm” reported the Wukan situation tonight with input from a BBC reporter in China. I hope that this incident goes viral and has a better outcome than usual.

  7. Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:

    BBC TV news at 10pm tonight featured Wukan with graphic film and interviews of villagers and BBC reporter outlining the situation for UK viewers who are not au fait with China.

  8. […] The battle of Wukan, and Christian Bale’s trip to visit Chen Guangcheng dominated China related headlines recently, but several other important stories emerged this week: […]

  9. Loved the co-worker story. There is so much consciousness, it’s wonderful.

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