Wukan Village appears again under the international spotlight after local officials used violence to suppress the on-going demonstration, resulting in many injured and arrested. It is not the first time the Chinese have publicly expressed their frustration and unhappiness towards the government. Each time, the Chinese state is able to keep things under control. However, Wukan has seen tentative success. What can other Chinese revolutionaries head from the Wukan example?
On June 17th, Lin Zulian, Secretary of Communist Party of China (CPC) General Branch of Wukan Village, was arrested on suspicion of corruption. Several days later, the authorities released a video of Lin pleading guilty. However, villagers believed that it was a forced confession because Lin appeared unnatural in front of the camera. As a result, the villagers took to the streets to demand his release and started an open rebellion lasting over 80 days. The local authority gave the villagers until September 10th to end the demonstration or suffer the consequences.
The police marched into the village and suppressed the demonstration violently. Homes were raided, tear gas was used and rubber bullets were fired. The villagers retaliated with stones, bricks and LPG tanks. In the end, dozens of people were injured, and approximately 70 people were arrested, including five Hong Kong reporters.
Small Success in the Wake of Bloodshed
This is not the Wukan villagers’ first confrontation with the federal government. In 2011, the government seized and sold villagers’ land to real estate developers without providing compensation. The villagers and protest leaders, including Lin, organised demonstrations. The confrontation ended with a compromise, believed to have been a political bargaining chip for Wang Yang, the Secretary of Guangdong CPC committee.
After the protest, Wukan villagers were given the right to select their own Secretary of CPC General Branch in 2012. This development was termed the “Wukan Model.” Many people were hopeful for the democratisation of China. However, the Wukan Village serves as a small example of revolutionary success. While similar events occurred throughout China, expecting a nationwide democratic revolution is currently unrealistic.
Social media and the internet have played significant roles in modern day revolutions. For example, during the 2010 Arab Spring, the use of social media doubled during the protests. Social media and digital technologies provided affected citizens a means for collective activism to circumvent state-operated media channels. They also facilitated political debates and reactions, contributing to the Arab Spring.
In China, the internet is used differently. Both state and local media are used to propagate government ideas and deliver threats. If people turn to foreign media, the government will arrest them for allegedly “colluding with foreign hostile forces.”
Although the use of social media has impacted modern social movements, strong political leaders have proven to dramatically contribute to attaining revolutionary aims. The increased use of social media has had an inverse effect on strong revolutionary leaders gaining control and putting forth concrete goals. Meaning, the use of social media does not usher in change and organize the masses. The Arab Spring brought about significant change. However, its biggest shortcoming was the revolutionary body’s often poor ability to deliver concrete demands.
The positive impact leaders like Lin have had in Wukan speak to this fact. Although China heavily restricts social media, Lin’s arrest sparked the most recent demonstrations. Despite the state’s use of technology to broadcast Lin’s guilty plea, the Wukan villagers protested the unjustified arrest.
Too many failed attempts?
Today, China resembles the Qing Dynasty. The restricted internet is comparable to the then closed harbours. The period after the British entered China was a period of chaos, and China could not rely on other countries for help. Therefore, the state had to use coercive tactics and close off the channel to Canton. Today, China maintains tight control of the people both to showcase its power to the global society and to prevent the people from rising against the state. Despite frustrations towards the government, citizens have little motivation to stage a revolution because of the state’s strict control.
However, the Wukan Village remains an exception. The power of a revolutionary leader, even one imprisoned, consolidates the people’s frustrations with the state. The government sentenced Lin to a three-year jail term and a fine of ¥200,000 (US $29,981). Lin publicly stated he would not appeal. Although the state maintains oppressive control of its citizens, the potential for small successes through leadership and concrete demands is possible.