Protesting villagers in southern China said yesterday they would march on government offices this week unless the body of a local leader is released and four villagers in police custody are freed.
The 13,000 residents of Wukan, in the wealthy province of Guangdong, are in open revolt against officialdom and have driven out local Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders who they say have been stealing their land for years.
Many local businesses have been closed for the past week while schools have been shuttered as riot police blockade the village, which has for months been the scene of occasionally violent protests over land seizures.
Authorities have vowed to crack down on the instigators of the latest unrest, which was triggered by the arrest nine days ago of five villagers, one of whom died Sunday a week ago in police custody.
Authorities say the 42-year-old man suffered a heart attack, while relatives who saw the body said they believed he had been beaten to death.
Villagers said yesterday they would march to government offices in Lufeng city on Wednesday unless the body of Xue Jinbo (薛錦波) is returned and the other four villagers still in police custody are released.
“If they do not return our people, then for sure we will march to Lufeng,” said a villager surnamed Zhang, 44, who said his family’s plot of farmland was taken from him in 1995. It would be the third such march since September.
Community leaders have started to collect donations of food and money for the “several hundred villagers” struggling to feed themselves because of the cordons of police and riot squads blocking the main roads in and out of Wukan.
“Yesterday we raised about 10,000 yuan [US$1,575] in donations for the poorer people,” a villager surnamed Chen said, outside a building where a dozen 20kg sacks of rice were stacked.
Villagers complain that local leaders have been stealing their land for decades. Anger boiled over in September when a lucrative housing project involving yet more valuable farmland was announced. The villagers marched to a nearby police post and violent clashes ensued. Since then, Wukan has driven out local CCP leaders who residents say have ruled the village as despots.
Despite the police blockade, some businesses have remained open, but owners complain they are running low on supplies.
“Of course we are having difficulties. Due to the police blockade we cannot get in any new stock,” a man surnamed Wu said in his general store where shelves normally packed with alcohol, oil and other cooking ingredients were half-empty.
However, some food supplies from neighboring villages have reached Wukan. Another man surnamed Wu said he had been carrying cabbages, lettuce and broccoli on his back into Wukan via back roads to avoid the police checkpoints.
“I have been coming here every day to sell vegetables. They are short on supplies and they have no farmland of their own,” Wu said.
Parents also expressed concern about their children’s education, with village schools now shut for more than a week.
“It is too difficult to carry on normal life when the government is treating us this way,” said a woman surnamed Li, who has two children. “Of course, I want my children to go to school, but right now is not the right time. We have to wait and see how this will be handled.”