What Are The Wukan Protests And Why Should Young People Care?

By Joy Pamnani

HONG KONG- The Wukan protests have hit global news headlines over the past few weeks, and yet many people, still don’t have a good idea of what it is all about.

The controversy seems to have begun in 2011, and it is certainly complicated.

But in this piece, we’re just boiling it down to the basics.

What sparked the protests?

Back in September 2011, the Wukan protests began as a result of land sales disputes in the Chinese coastal village.

Protestors argue that corrupt government officials got involved in land sales in the region without properly compensating villagers for their land that was sold.

Protests soon erupted, and clashes between the police and villagers left dozens wounded.

The movements grew in scale when a protest leader in police custody died in December 2011, as villagers forced the entire local government, Communist Party leadership and police out of the village.

Why is Wukan known as the “democracy village” experiment?

Wukan became known as China’s democracy village after villagers were granted the right to vote for officials following protests in 2011.

The term “democracy village” comes as many of China’s villages are state-controlled.

Read More: Was There Massive Voter Fraud In The Hong Kong LegCo Elections?

The country has started to introduce grassroots democracy for its villagers, and Wukan is a place people see the impacts of democracy in China, akin to an experiment.

What brought the issue into the spotlight again recently?

Protests have been on-and-off for the past few years, as villagers call for an eradication of corruption and better protection of land rights in China.

Authorities, on the other hand, have sent police and troops to crack down on the protests.

Clashes have continued.

WATCH: BBC News Report from Wukan in June, 2016

One of the elected village leaders, Lin Zuluan, was looked up to by many villagers in his fight against land seizures.

In June, he was sentenced to three years imprisonment facing bribery charges after he drafted a letter to the government demanding an end to corruption.

Lin released a taped confession, admitting to his crimes.

However, villagers believed his confession was forced and began marching along the streets, calling on authorities to release him.

If corruption is prevalent in China, why is this one of the only few uprisings we’ve seen so far?

Many mass movements have been a result of corruption, yet mainland media censorship stops information about protests that get out of hand.

While most people think the news was spread as a result of large-scale of demonstrations, experts believe it had to do with villagers’ intentions of making the news circulate around the world.

“The protestors in Wukan were very smart and invited international media outlets to broadcast the story,” Chen Xi, an Associate Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong told RISE NEWS in an interview.

Yuan Weishi, a retired historian from the Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, told the New York Times that geographical factors also play a role in Wukan’s mass coverage.

Guangdong is China’s wealthiest and most liberal province, and its citizens tend to look at uncensored news reports from Hong Kong, where people enjoy a higher degree of political freedom.

“People in Guangdong watch Hong Kong TV, rarely China Central Television, and so have a better understanding of civil society and the rule of law,” Weishi said, in a telephone interview with the New York Times back in 2011.“Being exposed to the Hong Kong media in their daily lives gives Guangdong people a better understanding of how the media works and what they can do.”

Hong Kong people held a democracy movement called the Umbrella Revolution two years back, and they didn’t receive as much backlash from the government. Why so?

Before going into comparisons, it’s important to understand the political context involved when comparing Hong Kong and Wukan.

Deciding whether or not to stop demonstrations in Wukan and Hong Kong don’t share the same dimensions in decision-making.

“Hong Kong was a British colony, and got handed over to China in 1997. The city has a considerable amount of autonomy, and a crackdown is an important decision related to national sovereignty,” Chen Xi told RISE NEWS. “An incident like Wukan is only a local matter.”

What’s in store for China’s democracy scene in the years to come?

Well, different experts have different thoughts on the issue.

According to a New York Times interview with Johan Lagerkvist, a professor at Stockholm University, Lagerkvist believes the Wukan incident will discourage the spread of democracy in China.

“It is now unlikely that other villages in China would adopt democracy in the mold of Wukan.” he said in the article.

However, Professor Chen Xi begs to differ, as grassroots democracy has spread well over China, as officials begin to embrace the concept of self-governance.

“Wukan is not a good model for democracy in China,” Chen Xi said. “Many elected officials have taken good care of their villages and I believe grassroots democracy will spread.”

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

You can also like our RISE NEWS Hong Kong Facebook page to stay engaged with our local coverage. 

Cover Photo Credit: BBC News/ Youtube (Screengrab)

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