The coastal town of Wukan in the heart of China’s industrial Guangdong province is under siege. Residents have blockaded city streets with tree limbs and armed themselves with homemade weapons. Nearby, police man their own roadblocks. The NYT reports:
The conflict in Wukan…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. The authorities say a heart attack killed the 42-year-old man, but relatives say his body bore signs of torture…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.
When I visited China earlier this fall, officials were visibly worried about the Occupy Wall Street protests, fearing that they would spread to China. At one point interior ministry officials, I was told, were asking expats in the bars of Shanghai if they had any connection to the movement.That fear seemed far fetched, but then as the Book of Proverbs has it, “The wicked flee when no man pursueth.” Occupy Wukan may not have much in common with OWS, but the unrest in China is much greater than in the US, and without an electoral process into which discontent can be channeled, protests are becoming more common and more explosive than anything we see here.