Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, December 16, 2011

Communists as landlords

The conjunction of brazen theft by public officials, determined villagers, and proximity to foreign reporters has made one village in China famous. There are regular reports of protests and resistance from hundreds of villages, but most of them are beyond the reach of reporters like Andrew Jacobs.

What's the ruling party to do when it is cast in the role it assigned to landlords 80 years ago?

Chinese Village Locked in Rebellion Against Authorities
A long-running dispute between farmers and local officials in southern China exploded into open rebellion this week after villagers chased away government leaders, set up roadblocks and began arming themselves with homemade weapons, residents said.

The conflict in Wukan, a coastal settlement near the country’s booming industrial heartland in Guangdong Province, escalated on Monday after residents learned that one of the representatives they had selected to negotiate with the local Communist Party had died in police custody…

Spasms of social unrest in China have become increasingly common, a reflection of the widening income gap and deepening unhappiness with official corruption and an unresponsive justice system.

But the clashes in Wukan, which first erupted in September, appear to be unusual for their longevity — and for the brazenness of the participants…

The unrest began in September, when thousands of people took to the streets to protest the seizure of agricultural land they said was illegally taken by government officials. The land was sold to developers, they said, but the farmers ended up with little or no compensation. After two days of protests, during which police vehicles were destroyed and government buildings ransacked, riot police moved in with what residents described as excessive brutality.

With order restored, local officials vowed to investigate the villager’s land-grab claims. Two village party officials were fired and the authorities made an offer that is rare in China’s top-down political system: county party officials would negotiate with a group of village representatives chosen by popular consensus.

A butcher named Xue Jinbo was among the 13 people chosen…

Last Friday, the authorities responded by sending in a group of plain-clothes policemen who grabbed five of the representatives, including Mr. Xue.

Two days later, he was dead…

Although government censors blocked news of the latest unrest, the state-run Xinhua news agency weighed in on the “rumors” about Mr. Xue’s death, saying he had died of cardiac arrest a day after confessing to his role in the riots of in September…

The top party official in Shanwei, Zheng Yanxiong, said Mr. Xue’s death would nonetheless be investigated, but he warned residents against using their suspicions to fuel unrest.

“The government will strive to settle all related problems and hopes the village will not be instigated into staging further riots,” Mr. Zheng said.

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