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.