Outrage over the death of Xue Jinbo, a villager from the small fishing town of Wukan in China’s southeastern Guangdong province, has turned a longstanding land dispute with authorities into an unheard-of, nearly week-long standoff between locals and police. According to our Observer in Wukan, residents are frightened but unwilling to give in to the local government’s demands.
Trouble in Wukan began in September after local authorities attempted to seize local land and sell it to a property developer. Infuriated by the move, hundreds of demonstrators went on a rampage, overturning police vehicles and storming local government buildings.
In a bid to ease simmering tensions between Wukan’s residents and local authorities, the village was allowed to appoint 13 representatives to mediate negotiations over the land sale. Xue was among those chosen to speak on behalf of the village.
The situation escalated again on Sunday, December 11, after Wukan’s residents drove out local officials upon hearing that Xue had died while in police custody. Xue and four other of the village’s chosen representatives were detained by local authorities the Friday before on charges of fomenting September’s uprising. Authorities maintain that Xue died from cardiac arrest, although many in the village believe that he was killed by his interrogators.
Villagers stage a mass protest in Wukan. Video posted on YouTube on December 12 by aiweifan.
Police immediately attempted to stamp out protests and have maintained a cordon sealing off Wukan from the outside world since Sunday.
Villagers have draped Wukan with dozens of banners carrying protest slogans such as, “We want our land back”, “Fight corruption”, and even appeals to journalists to report the story in the international media.
Following news of Xue Jinbo's death, villagers built a structure to house a shrine in his memory. Dressed in traditional funeral garb, locals burn incense and mourn before his portrait.
Wukan villagers hold a funeral ceremony in Xue's honour. They burn fake money, a miniature house and a model of a Mercedes car to ensure Xue will have those luxuries in heaven. Photos courtesy of FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Wukan, Baptiste Favelloz.
Chen W. (not his real name) is a resident in Wukan.
The police have blocked off all the main roads leading into the village and have cut off access to the sea, so getting food is very difficult. Right now, we’re eating from our stores. We are also getting some food from the surrounding towns. Relatives and neighbouring villagers use small paths to sneak food into Wukan. We share with those who don’t have enough to eat, but we don’t know how much longer we can hold out.
The local authorities are demanding that we agree to sign a contract selling our land. They’ve also asked the villagers to voluntarily go down to the police security bureau and confess their crimes in exchange for a cash reward. They’re doing this for two reasons – to stop the protests and also to use Wukan as an example. They want other villages in the region to know that they will be rewarded for complying with the authorities. No one in the village is going to do it, there’s too much solidarity. We don’t feel that we have committed any crimes, we haven’t done anything wrong. [According to media reports, some villagers have already defected.]
People here are pretty angry. We want our land back, and we want the authorities to give us Xue Jinbo’s body. We’re also very scared that the police might enter the village at night and begin arresting people. There’s already been some beatings. We’re frightened because our future is very uncertain”.