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Significance of Wukan Rebellion

The famous Austrian aphorist, satirist and scholar, Karl Kraus wrote several decades ago, “Corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual; the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country.”

In developing countries like India and China, this is one of the challenging problem which to some extent, has been indeed threatening the morals and stability of the whole nation. Nobody knows it better than the Chinese President Hu Jintao, who in his speech commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party of China warned the fellow comrades from the “four danger” of loss of vitality (jingshen xiedai), insufficient capacity (nengli buzu), alienation from the people (tuoli qunzhong) and rampant corruption (xiaoji fubai). These internal challenges, said Hu on July 1, 2011 are now “more strenuous and pressing than at any point in the past.”

As long as the economy is growing by more than 8%, loss of vitality and insufficient capacity do not pose a direct and immediate threat and the main problem Chinese society is currently facing is—alienation from the people and rampant corruption at every level. This is an issue which has been rattling the nerves of the Communist Party of the country.

The government is further alienating from the people and their concern by bringing in new rules for controlling the micro-blogs in Beijing. The regulation calls for registering the real name with proper identity card number etc for using it and people are completely infuriated with this kind of draconian autocratic style of the government. This control through–“Beijing Municipal Regulations Concerning the Development and Control of Microblogs” (Beijingshi weiboke fazhan guanli ruogan guiding) has been already announced and has formally taken effect from December 16, 2011.

Several prominent writers, intellectuals and journalists have expressed their anger, anguish and exasperation against this regulation and a renowned journalist Zhan Jiang recently wrote on Sina micro-blog (weibo) that one of the main reason for the government to withdraw “Beijing Municipal Regulations Concerning the Development and Control of Micro-blogs” is that, the forefather of socialism, Marx, once incisively pointed out that anonymity of expression in the media is a form of public opinion transmission in society. He said: “As long as the newspaper press was anonymous, it appeared as the organ of a numberless and nameless public opinion; it was the third power in the state.” The authorities in Beijing should review the radiant ideas of Marx.

People in China also feel alienated because authorities try to conceal the truth of several important incidents from them. Facts and essential data regarding Sichuan earthquake, Shaanxi coal-mine accidents and Zhejiang high-speed train accidents have been not faithfully disseminated and people are gradually getting estranged from the propaganda of the Party.

Although, alienations from the mass is a notable issue but; the main concern against the party of the common mass in China is still—“Corruption”—ironically same as in India today. People in India have been demonstrating against corruption and clamoring for bringing a strong “Lokpal Bill” across the length and breadth of the country –in almost all the major towns and cities. India is the biggest democratic institution in the world and media is completely free hence the denizens get the timely report of these demonstrations without any major subversion and variation. It is not that in China, there are no any demonstrations against the authorities but the major issue is that these are not reported at all in the national media and people are completely unaware of these incidents. According to even Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, more than 180,000 small and big demonstrations crop up in the country every year but mostly they remain unreported in print and electronic media. Mobile phones, internet and micro-blogs have tried to fill in the gap but the government measures and control on Internet has not helped the cause.

Recently, an incident which has got front page coverage in the global media but has been completely gone unreported in the Chinese press is the incident of Wukan village of Southern prosperous Guangdong province. Almost five years ago, some residents of the village formed a core group against the land grabbing by the local communist officials on a major Chinese web-site, called QQ. They were disbanded in time but last September hundreds of villagers again protested against the authorities against the increasing land grabbing. Following this incident in September, the local officials grabbed thirteen village negotiators and representatives, kept them alienated from the village and held them in police custody. One of the village representatives, Xue Jinbo died under the custody on December 7 and villagers turned furious, suspecting that his death was because of police harassment and continual beating. Authorities on the contrary are claiming that Xue’s death was because of heart attack and not at all because of any atrocities.

Villagers and representatives since Xue Jinbo’s death have been demanding the return of the corpse and also returning back the farm land of the villagers which was sold to developers, instantly. The authorities have not caved in their demands and thousands of villagers have congregated and assembled in the heart of the village. Wrath of the villagers have made the local authorities and police officials flee away and this is for the first time in the history of modern China that communist party officials had to budge in front of the common masses. However, they have blocked the village completely and no any food and water supply is being extended to them. This demonstration has almost become a kind of rebellion and certainly very historic in nature.

Almost same kind of incident when it happened in the same province but in a different village known as Dongzhou exactly 5 years ago, police openly fired and three people were killed. That was the first incident in China after Tiananmen incident of 1989, when police had brutally killed its own citizens for demonstration. Killing of three youths whose surname was Lin, Jiang and Wei and they were all in the prime time of their age (26, 35 and 31 respectively) had taken the villagers aback, helpless but reeling under rage. Although the government had acknowledged that three village residents were killed in a ‘clash’ but they had completely blocked all the search of this village and surrounding cities on the Internet and no any local media coverage was allowed.

However, this time, the villagers are now planning to go to the main town—Shanwei, in an organized manner demanding for the corpse of Xue Jinbo, release of three other representatives and annulment of the illegal unauthorized land of the poor peasants.

As I stated earlier, this movement will remain historic and will have a huge ramification on Chinese culture and society and Chinese people and humanity at large is asking slew of questions to the Chinese authorities.

Why did the local communist officials and police flee away from the scene in the first instance and not opened fire like they had done five years ago? Was it to accommodate the grievances of the villagers? Was it to show leniency by the Party? What was not done in big mass demonstrations like Tiananmen of 1989 or in 2006 December incident of Dongzhou which were ruthlessly oppressed, why this has been done? Is China becoming more democratic, like many patriot bloggers have written but if so, why media is completely censored?

Why did the government officials on the one hand relented and flee away from the village but on the other, are truncating all the food and water supply to them? Is it a carrot and stick policy or we gauge some other motive behind the officials?

If Xue Jinbo had a natural death because of heart attack, as the government has been claiming why his body is not being returned to his family members or is the suspicion of the villagers of ‘atrocity’ completely true? Despite some lure and lollipops from the government what has made this rebellion so united and peaceful?

One of the remarkable facts of this rebellion has been that the villagers are not at all against the central government leadership but they are completely aligning against the local party officials and administration. If the government relents to the demand of Wukan villagers will other gets a fillip from it and will we see some more rebellion of the same kind in other part of the countries?

When this incident was published on the BBC Chinese website one ‘overzealous-patriot’ Chinese reader posted, “These kinds of incidents happen daily in India and BBC page will be flooded with these kinds of news and there will be no space to report about other international incidents”. My patriotic friend failed to understand that yes ‘demonstration and land grabbing and atrocities on poor peasants do happen in India’ but a village demonstrator in neither killed openly by the police nor is killed in custody. And there is always an ample coverage in both the print and electronic media in India.

On the BBC Chinese website, there were however several other Chinese expatriates who posted their comment criticizing the motive of the authorities but begged anonymity citing the reason that ‘they had to repatriate to their motherland’! One can clearly understand the psyche.

We also fail to understand if the death of Xue Jinbo was because of a heart-attack, why the authorities are not handing over his body to the family member? Refusal of handing over the body of a dead demonstrator to his family members will never happen in democratic institutions.

The downgrading of the Chinese economy has accelerated in the recent few months and people would inevitably throng to the streets if there will be a major employment problem and this kind of treatment and atrocities by the local authorities in China.

(The writer Dr. Yukteshwar Kumar is Course Director of Chinese Stream at University of Bath, United Kingdom. e-mail: yukt123@gmail.com)

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