Tue, Dec 20, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Chinese villagers hunker down as tensions mount

Reuters, WUKAN, CHINA

A resident from a nearby village walks away from a barricade laid across a bridge leading to the village of Wukan, Guangdong Province, China, yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

Residents of a village in southern China who staged a protest over land and a suspicious death said yesterday they would not buckle, despite rumors that riot police were poised to quell their protest that has upstaged the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

For a week, the semi-urban village of Wukan, Guangdong Province, has driven off officials and police, and held daily protests attracting thousands of residents outraged by the death in custody of Xue Jinbo (薛錦波), an organizer of a months-long campaign over former farmland that residents say was taken illegally.

Although they have denounced local officials, the residents said they held out hope that the central government would step in and redress their grievances over Xue’s death and the swathe of former farmland they said was seized for development.

However, many also said they were braced for a crackdown and village men guard barricades to block police.

“If they have guns, we have rocks,” a villager surnamed Li said. “If they want us to die, it’s OK too. We don’t have any land left anyway.”

At night, 50 or so men stood watch at a road turnoff leading into the besieged village and solemnly said how they would defend against a crackdown, certain it would come.

“Because of this land, we are not afraid to die,” another villager surnamed Lin said. “We’ll fight them to the death. If our village wasn’t so united, this would not be possible.”

On deserted roads, men on motorcycles patrolled with sticks in their hands.

“We can’t sleep well at night, we know they will snatch the village representatives,” a villager surnamed Zhu said.

Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), set to retire late next year, has made building a more “harmonious society” a centerpiece of his government.

Although protests such as Wukan’s do not threaten the CPP’s power, they lay bare discontent against corruption, land seizures and official highhandedness that corroding party authority at the grassroots.

Residents say hundreds of hectares of land was acquired unfairly by corrupt officials in collusion with developers. Anger in the village boiled over in September after repeated appeals to higher officials. Residents ransacked a government office and skirmished with police.

The government of Shanwei, the area including Wukan, said last week that some CCP members and officials accused of misdeeds over the disputed land were detained and that the main land development project had been suspended.

However, villagers’ fury has turned to Xue’s death — which the government has said was caused by a heart attack, not physical abuse — and demands that officials hand his body over to his family.

Yet villagers also spoke longingly of their desire for the central government to intervene and took pains to emphasize that their calls for democracy and elections are directed at the local government and not communist leaders in Beijing.

“We trust in the central government,” a villager said. “Why should the central government persecute us villagers? The central government is the farmers’ parents.”

At one house, bags of rice were stockpiled — donations from wealthy villagers to be distributed to the other villagers.

Despite the looming threat of a crackdown, there was little palpable fear on the streets. People went about their business in the narrow alleys and children played.

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