Calling for worldwide support for Wukan’s fight for democracy
“Down with Corruption, Reclaim Our Land” —Hong Kong
Calling for worldwide support for Wukan’s fight for democracy
On November 21st, 1927, under the leadership of Peng Pai, pioneer of the Chinese Communist revolution as well as committed socialist, the country’s first rural Soviet administration was established in area of Hailufeng, Guangdong province. Thus began the first chapter of the Communist movement in China.
On November 21st, 2011, less than a few kilometers away from the founding site, at Wukan village (part of Lufeng city in eastern Guangdong province), a few thousand villagers took to the street. Holding up signs that read ‘Down with dictatorship’, ‘Curb corruption’, ‘Down with government-business collusion’ and ‘Return land to the people’, villagers marched to the government headquarters at Lufeng city to protest against officials’ illegal land seizures and sales. Their demands were clear: to reclaim the land sold without the consent of the people, to release public accounts concerning the some 400 hectares of land seized and sold since 1978, to launch investigations into fraudulent elections and to enforce the Organic Law of Village Committees to hold fair and open elections. The demonstration ended peacefully after the acting mayor received the villagers’ petition.
Corrupt officials’ illegal land sales prompt villagers’ mobilization
Since the early 1990s, the villagers of Wukan had launched petitions at the local governments of Lufeng, Shanwei, and Guangdong province, yet only in vain. A proper reply from officials was never made. Without democratic elections, the secretary of the Communist Party’s local chapter , Xue Chang, has stayed in power for 41 years. Abusing its position as the so-called representative of Wukan, the village committee has sold and leased hundreds of hectare of land without consulting the villagers, and yet in the past few decades, villagers have only received less than 500 yuan in compensation.
The ongoing demonstrations were prompted by allegations that Hong Kong-based businessman Chen Wenqing, who is originally from Wukan, had colluded with the village committee to strike a private land sales deal with luxury home developer Country Garden, thereby gaining the 700 million yuan compensation which was supposed to be paid to the villagers. As the representative of Guangdong province and Shanwei city in the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the honorary president of the Confederacy of Hong Kong Shanwei Clansmen Ltd, as well as owner of various hotels and development companies in the mainland, Chen holds numerous official positions both in the mainland and Hong Kong. In recent months, as Country Garden began its construction work, villagers could no longer put up with the situation.
On September 22nd, 2011, the villagers of Wukan rose up and launched a mass protest at the municipal government, after which officials promised to investigate into the problem. The village committee leadership that was under suspicion immediately fled the area, leaving the village without a ruling administration.
To prevent a state of anarchy and to strengthen the mobilization of the people, villagers filled the leadership vacuum by democratically electing 13 representatives and setting up a ‘Provisional Board of Representatives’ to conduct village affairs. In mid-October, villagers also established a ‘Women’s Representatives Federation’ to support the ongoing struggle. At the same time, the Lufeng municipal government sent out a team to investigate the situation. However, on Nov 1, the government announced that it would only relieve the duties of party secretary Xue Chang and vice party secretary Chen Shunyi, and agree to Chen’s resignation from the village committee leadership. Not only did the municipal government not implement democratic elections after that, but appointed the vice mayor of Donghai township as the new party secretary of Wukan. The problems of land and official corruption raised by the villagers were never properly investigated and addressed. After two months of unresponsiveness and inaction on the government’s part, the villagers had no choice but to launch a peaceful protest on Nov 21.
Villagers call for general strike; elected representative dies from torture
After the march on Nov 21, on Dec 3, the municipal government unilaterally announced to the press that the issues had already been solved, and that the incident had come to an end. Outraged, more than 13,000 villagers launched a general strike from December 4 and held assemblies and marches. On Dec 5, villagers protested against the coming of the undemocratically elected party secretary.
On Dec 9, the police arrested village representatives Zhuang Liehong, Xue Jinbo, Zhang Jiancheng, Hong Ruichao, Ceng Zhaoliang on criminal charges. Two days later, on the night of Dec 11, the Lufeng municipal government suddenly announced that the democratically elected representative of Wukan village and vice president of the Provisional Board of Representatives, Xue Jinbo, had died of a heart attack. Officials stated that external causes of death were ruled out. This directly contradicts with the recording of Xue and his daughter that has been circulated on the internet. According to Xue’s daughter, Xue’s entire body was bruised, his hands swollen, his chin and nose caked with blood, clear signs of having been tortured to death.
Police seals off village in siege
In response to Xue’s death, on Dec 12 and 13, the villagers of Wukan organized an assembly to remember him and to voice out their anger. They swore to continue with the struggle to remove corrupt officials. Currently, roads into Wukan have been sealed off by thousands of security personnel, effectively cutting off Wukan from outside contact and even stopping the village’s water and food supplies. As a result, food is becoming increasingly scarce in the village. Earlier, in attempt to enter the village and arrest more democratically elected representatives, the police threw gas canisters at protestors and demolished the homemade roadblocks that the villagers had set up to prevent the police from besieging the village.
Faced with continued demonstrations, the municipal government has only acknowledged that it would hold a ‘double designations’, that is, to have the village committee’s party members attend questioning sessions at a designated place for a designated duration. Officials also announced the suspension of the two projects coordinated by former party secretary Xue Chang and Hong Kong-based businessman Chen Wenqing.
Peasants and workers’ movements in different eras are faced with the same problem: capitalism
While the villagers of Wukan are fighting a difficult battle, at the same time, teachers in Lufeng city have also launched their own demonstrations on Dec 11 to demand a pay rise. Like the 1922 agrarian movement in Hailufeng, the struggles of the Wukan villagers as well as their political and economic demands have a pioneering significance in the history of Chinese workers and peasants’ fight for democracy. The Hailufeng peasants’ movement in the 1920s and the workers’ strikes in Hong Kong as well as Shanghai all echo each other in highlighting the economic and political crises that plagued global capitalism and capitalist states.
Today, more than 80 years later, the worker and peasant movements in Hailufeng similarly echo the recent labour strikes in Shenzhen, Dongguan, Shanghai and so on. They all shed light on the current political and economic crisis in which wealth and power in the society are concentrated in the hands of a few.
‘Down with corruption, reclaim our land’ is the voice of one billion Chinese people. It is also the voice of the millions of Hong Kong people who live under the oppression of property hegemony. The revolutionary tradition that began in Hailufeng has been revived once again. With thousands of police surrounding the village while the government still declares the people’s democratically formed organization illegal, refuses to tell the truth regarding Xue Jinbo’s death, arrests and jails village representatives, and only investigates corruption on the village level – it is clear that the villagers of Wukan have reached the most difficult and yet critical point of their long and hard-fought struggle.
At this fateful hour, we call on those who push for progress and freedom around the world. We call on the people of China and Hong Kong to give their full support to Wukan’s fight for democracy. On Dec 17, we in Hong Kong will rise up and protest!
We demand that the Central Government:
1. Immediately stop the sealing off of Wukan, and release the arrested village representatives;
2. Return Xue Jinbo’s body and release the details and the truth behind Xue’s death; punish the security personnel in charge of extracting confessions by torturing Xue, and make a formal apology and compensation to Xue’s family;
3. Recognize Wukan’s democratically elected Provisional Board of Representatives, allow representatives to participate in investigations, and handle the matter in an open, fair and just manner;
4. Reclaim the sold land and return it to the villagers of Wukan;
5. Address the demands of the villagers to curb corruption and implement democratic elections;
6. Investigate land seizures in the country ad stop the privatization of land.
December 15th, 2011