Title

Wukan Struggle

  • A signed land-lease contract.
    A signed land-lease contract.
  • Villager Zhang Bingchai holds his land-lease contract and house property certificate in his home in Wukan.
    Villager Zhang Bingchai holds his land-lease contract and house property certificate in his home in Wukan.
  • Protest leader Xue Jinbo gives a speech before the invalidated Village Party Committee, December 5, 2011.
    Protest leader Xue Jinbo gives a speech before the invalidated Village Party Committee, December 5, 2011.
  • Postings outside the Village Party Committee house include phone numbers to contact and petition the government, Xue Jinbo’s obituary, and a call for a general strike. The poster in the background is asking for donations to support the villagers.
    Postings outside the Village Party Committee house include phone numbers to contact and petition the government, Xue Jinbo’s obituary, and a call for a general strike. The poster in the background is asking for donations to support the villagers.
  • The day after Xue Jinbo’s death, the Village Party Committee office was turned into a mourning hall.
    The day after Xue Jinbo’s death, the Village Party Committee office was turned into a mourning hall.
  • A banner hangs along the city street with villagers’ signatures petitioning government officials at higher levels.
    A banner hangs along the city street with villagers’ signatures petitioning government officials at higher levels.
  • A crowd gathers at the Xianweng Opera Stage to hold a memorial meeting for Xue Jinbo.
    A crowd gathers at the Xianweng Opera Stage to hold a memorial meeting for Xue Jinbo.
  • A villager helps prepare for an upcoming vote, January 31, 2012.
    A villager helps prepare for an upcoming vote, January 31, 2012.
  • A voting official prepares absentee ballot voting certificates in Wukan, January 31, 2012.
    A voting official prepares absentee ballot voting certificates in Wukan, January 31, 2012.
  • On the eve of the Chinese New Year, couplets (ceremonial banners) are posted outside the Village Party Committee office. The couplets were contributed by a netizen and calligraphed by protest leader Yang Semao. The translation reads: “Small village starts self-governance with great happiness showing in our eyes, tomorrow will be determined by 'one person, one vote' while spring is coming back to Wukan.”
    On the eve of the Chinese New Year, couplets (ceremonial banners) are posted outside the Village Party Committee office. The couplets were contributed by a netizen and calligraphed by protest leader Yang Semao. The translation reads: “Small village starts self-governance with great happiness showing in our eyes, tomorrow will be determined by 'one person, one vote' while spring is coming back to Wukan.”

While village elections are widespread in China, it’s rare for the Party not to exert pressure over the selection of candidates. When the Guangdong province village of Wukan held elections in February and March 2012, however, they were notably free from interference from above. These elections represented the culmination of three months of struggle between the villagers and provincial government. In September 2011, Wukan villagers began protesting the illegal seizure and sale of their land by local Party cadres. The protestors demanded fair compensation for the land that had been taken, but officials refused to grant it. Tensions escalated in mid-December, when a leader of the protest movement, Xue Jinbo, died under mysterious circumstances while in police custody. Protestors drove local officials and police out of the village; the provincial government, in turn, cut off supplies of food, water, and electricity and surrounded the town with security officers.

But in late December, in a highly unusual move, provincial authorities conceded that the protesters grievances were legitimate, threw out Wukan’s current leaders, and allowed its villagers to freely elect new leaders.

Zhang Jieping, a Hong Kong-based journalist, traveled to Wukan, where she interviewed protest leader and newly elected village chief Lin Zuluan and photographed the protests and subsequent elections.

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Rural Life