An Insider's Account of the Wukan Protest

For months, thousands of villagers in Wukan, Guangdong Province, staged large protests over illegal land seizures, rigged elections and official corruption. The unrest started in September, and as the months wore on they attracted nationwide, then worldwide, attention. Finally, an election in March put a coda on the Wukan protests.

On March 3, protest leader Lin Zulian [formerly known as Lin Zuluan] was elected to head the village committee. In the eyes of locals, Lin, who had earlier been named village party secretary, was the ideal candidate because for one major reason: They saw him as honest.

Over the months, Lin was the main leader of a series of meetings, protests and confrontations with police. As the representative of the villagers, he talked with provincial officials in December. Finally, the government accepted recommendations proposed by Lin, chiefly to release arrested villagers, return the body of Xue Jinbo (another protest leader who died in police custody), recognize the authority of the village's autonomous leadership organization, and take steps to solve the land problem.

Lin joined the army in 1965, and, after leaving the army, became deputy director of Wukan’s village committee. Later, he held the office of the head of the Donghai township economic development zone, of which Wukan is a part. For a while he left the area to go into private business, but returned to Wukan in 1995.

In an interview with Caixin, Lin seemed optimistic about the village’s prospects, saying: “Despite difficulties ahead, we're confident about the future of Wukan.”

Caixin: What’s your view of the election?

Lin: It’s progress on how to organize and implement an election. For villagers, they are beginning to realize elections are their divine right. Several villagers who were more than 80 years old came to vote. They said it was their first opportunity to vote. Everyone was entitled to cast their vote. We had a secret ballot to keep order. The whole process was organized.

Caixin: Were there any difficulties or pressures on the election?

Lin: Since Wukan is in a remote place, there were lots of difficulties. Neither organizers nor villagers knew how to start.

At the very beginning, both the government and our village committee worried that some villagers would make trouble. Since there are 47 clans in Wukan, they usually held internal meetings with their groups to campaign for votes.

But I believe the canvassing was reasonable. People had internal meetings in groups, showing they were serious about the election. For a village with a population of 10,000, 8,000 of them registered voters, the canvassing didn't disrupt the election.

Caixin: You’re both the village committee head and the village’s Communist Party secretary. How should grassroots democratic self-government be carried out?

Lin: The villagers’ representatives, the electoral committee and the supervision committee should function as checks and balances.

This means that above all, the village representatives should discuss major issues including financing, investment, projects, and land. The village committee is entitled to exercise its power, but at the same it should be supervised by the supervision committee. The village committee is supposed to report to both the village representatives and villagers when it is carrying out duties and after finishing them.

We’re considering reporting to the villages through videos. Thus, villagers can know clearly the whole story and will not be confused. In such way, the three organs can balance their duties and supervise each other.

As a party secretary, I understand our country’s policies for rural areas and at the same time support the work of village committee. Self-government can be realized when the village committee play its own role and the party branch provides policy support.

However, transparency also matters. If there is no transparency, there will be no fairness, justice and science. Transparency is the precondition for everything. We should let villagers, village representatives and organizations know what will be done before we start. In a word, transparency is the most significant thing.

Although I’m under great pressure to assume two responsibilities, it’s good to balance the work. Since the public trusts me and puts great hopes on me, I will carry out my work by following their interests.

First, I will seek the opinions of village representatives for every task, which should help avoid arbitrary decisions. Second, I’ll not get involved in personnel arrangement and things related to various interests. All these things will be decided by the party branch and village committee.

Caixin: How do you deal with different views and ideas among villagers?

Lin: For this issue, I have always insisted on being open to non-mainstream ideas. To be open means to accept different ideas while still adhering to the law and regulations.

Although some individual views and behaviors cannot represent the mainstream thinking of all villagers, various opinions constitute real democracy. Different voices are good, not harmful for us, because they’re like a mirror from which we can learn a lot.

For example, someone put up a note (on March 6), demanding I pay him 400,000 yuan, saying it was what I promised him. It's not true. The fact is that once some village representatives explained to villagers how much land we had now and how much money they could get for it. But this doesn't mean that I promised pay out money.

Caixin: The land issue was the cause of Wukan protests. How is the issue being solved?

Lin: All of us, including the village committee and county and township officials are facing difficulties solving the land issue. However, as long as the villagers work together and abide by the law, we can figure out a way to solve this. We are able to confirm with enough evidence that this land belongs to Wukan villagers.

The provincial work group estimates the area of Wukan village as 600 hectares, which is much less than the actual 1,667 hectares, so I proposed that the government should provide data on the area of neighboring villages and help us set boundaries.

Consultation, negotiation and litigation help little for land issues. Officials collude with businessmen to seize the land in the name of economic development and use land as a mortgage to harm the interests of villagers. Therefore, it would be unfair for the government to refuse villagers' requirements and ask a third-party to solve problems when villagers appeal to the government.

It takes time to understand problems and solve them.

Caixin: If Wukan recovers the land, how will you and the village committee guarantee it is fairly shared?

Lin: First, we need to make sure the land will not just be sold, but used land to feed villagers. We should prudently allocate the land. We can allocate the land to villagers who need to build houses, but we also should prevent cases where the poorer just sell the land. If they don't have enough money to build a house, the village committee probably could provide financial support.

The advantage of land allocation is that villagers could live close to each other, which is better for local development.

Caixin: The peaceful ending of the Wukan situation has a lot to do with the cooperation of the provincial work group. How did you communicate with it?

Lin: I was informed on December 19 that that evening provincial officials would come and negotiate with us.

In the end, the talk was delayed to the next day. But I decided to ask villagers to remove the roadblocks and take down protest banners because I knew that many provincial officials with high ranks were coming here, indicating that they intended to solve the problem.

On the morning of December 20, I talked with Zhu Mingguo, Guangdong's deputy party secretary. Shanwei party secretary Zheng Yanxiong and a villager named Zhang Shuijin also attended the meeting.

I made three proposals in the meeting:

First, I required the government to release three detained villagers and return the body of Xue Jinbo.

Second, the government must recognize the authority of the acting committee established after the conflicts because it was considered illegal at that time. I explained that the acting committee was approved by county and township governments. Besides, if the acting committee was illegal, I was illegal too.

Third, we must solve the land issue in accordance with the law.

Then the officials told me they needed to have a discussion and Zhu Mingguo favored my proposals and the deadlock was resolved.

Qu Yunxu is a Caixin staff reporter.

Protests, Wukan