The Siege of Wukan

UPDATE 4: Malcolm Moore has posted a new story on this, which I highly recommend you read in its entirety right here. Also added another image from Weibo.

UPDATE 3: Additional images from Weibo added, section on Weibo censorship added at the end of the post.

UPDATE 2: One of the accounts posting images from inside Wukan — a young man who lives there — has been closed by Sina. Clearly, they’re taking this pretty seriously. I know of two other Weibo accounts from users inside Wukan, but I wonder how quickly their accounts will be closed, too. Also, Malcolm Moore tweeted that the villagers estimate they have food enough left for ten days.

UPDATE 1: Malcolm Moore has posted some more details on his time in the village — and how he got in there — here (you may need a Google Plus account to see that. I have also added an additional large image to the selection of photos from Weibo.

wukan-rebellionThe Telegraph’s Malcolm Moore published an explosive story today about Wukan, the village in southern China that is now in open rebellion against the local government. This story has been developing for several months, but Moore’s piece from inside the blocked-off town (no idea how he’s managed that) is one of the best and most comprehensive pieces I’ve seen yet. I highly recommend that you click this link right now and read the entire story. I’ll wait here.

Ok, finished? Great. Beyond that, Moore has been live updating this morning via his Twitter account, posting additional photos and information. As of this writing, the most interesting of those is this tidbit, from around 11 AM this morning:

The rumour in Wukan is CCTV may be coming on Dec 16, so the police may try and reassert control before then

I don’t think I need to explain the ways in which this event is amazing, and I mean that in the literal sense of the word. Anyone with a funtional brain and half an eye on the Chinese media is aware that local government land grabs are a huge source of discontent, but if you’d told me a few months ago that a Chinese town would band together, run the local officials out of town, resist a force of 1,000 police officers intent on entering the town again (but, thankfully, not willing to use lethal force to do so, at least not yet), establish their own makeshift government, and keep the whole thing running even this long, I would have told you you were nuts.

Before we go any further, I want to get this out of the way: no, this is not the first spark in some nationwide rebellion that will see the national government overthrown. In fact, it’s not even a rebellion against the central government, as you can tell from the pleas for help from Beijing in Moore’s article.

Still, it puts Beijing in an awfully interesting position. As I see it, they have three basic options:

  1. Come to the rescue of the down, declare the local government officials corrupt, put them on trial and restore order peacefully. This is, I suspect, exactly what the people in Wukan want.
  2. Come to the rescue of the officials and provide them enough manpower to completely crush the rebellion. This would be easy, but would attract a lot of negative attention internationally, and there’s a risk of it leaking online domestically, too.
  3. Do nothing for the time being, and see if the officials can regain control on their own, or if the rebellion spreads.

The last option seems by far the most likely to me, which is good and bad news for the protesters in Wukan. No help is coming from Beijing, but at least that means the PLA probably isn’t coming either.

Of course, the central government isn’t really doing nothing, as mentions of Wukan
are being scrubbed from the media and deleted online. As you would expect, searching for “Wukan” on Weibo gives you the classic “According to the relevant laws, these results can’t be displayed” message. But weibo is a tough thing to keep completely clean, and there are some folks giving updates from inside the town. Here, for example, are some photographs from the past few days that I found on Sina Weibo:



How exactly the siege will play out isn’t yet clear, but I’ll be keeping as close an eye on it as possible, and if you’re not already following Malcolm Moore, that’s something you’re going to want to do. I truly hope this situation can be resolved in a way that gives justice to the villagers — especially the family of the deceased — without further bloodshed, but I’m not sure how likely that is.

If the police do attempt to enter the village again, I’d guess they’ll be using something a bit more serious than tear gas. And the villagers may not have the firepower to compete with guns, but that doesn’t mean they’re not trying. Another update from Malcolm Moore around noon reads:

I’m sitting on a balcony, looking over the village, and above a tidy pile of steel-tipped bamboo spears.


Citizens of Wukan are attempting to spread news of their movement via Weibo, but unsurprisingly, posts and accounts are being deleted with great speed. The account through which I found several of the photos above has already been entirely deleted by Sina — attempting to access it suddenly returns a “user does not exist” error. The pages of other Weibo users in Wukan look an awful lot like this young man’s page, in which every single thing he’s retweeted over the past few days has since been deleted:


In addition, at least one Wukan resident was seen complaining on Weibo that Tencent had shuttered his QQ profile, presumably because it included information about what’s happening in Wukan.

[First image via the Telegraph]

0 thoughts on “The Siege of Wukan”

  1. “As you would expect, searching for “Wukan” on Weibo gives you the classic “According to the relevant laws, these results can’t be displayed” message.”

    It is a classic, isn’t it? Someone should collect all the CCP-isms (yes, I know it’s Weibo, but the line is the government line) and put them all on one handy album which can be yours for the princely sum of 99.50 Yuan (pay in 5 mao coins and you get a 20% discount). Order now and they’ll also throw in a bonus album of Things CCP Officials Say When Caught, covering all you favourites from “Are you a CCP member?” to “I believe it”.

    Agree with Custer’s analysis as to the likely outcome. The central government has been playing the “we’re the good guys” card against the corruption of local officials for ages now. The fact that the central government came up through the same apparatus that local officials do, and that there’s no firewall between local and central governance, makes this a very dubious proposition, but people are willing to go along with it so long as it plays out to their advantage.

    Of course, the central government may decide to get rough. […]

    OK, so the CCP isn’t likely to get that rough against a single town – but tanks, APCs, helicopters? 1989 showed us they’ll do whatever it takes to hang on to power.

    [Note: deleted the bit about hidden harmonies; not constructive. See new comments policy. -ed]


  2. Oh, and for everyone wondering just how far Wukan is from Wuchang (i.e., the first town to fall to rebels in the 1911 Xinhai Revolution), the answer is about 700 miles. I think that’s about right – not a million miles, but not all that close either.


  3. Of Custer’s options, #1 would be the right thing for the CCP to do, but it might embolden other towns and villages who would like nothing more than to be rid of corrupt local officials, and the CCP may not want to open that Pandora’s box.

    THe #3 “do nothing” option is probably the way they go, since it’s the path of least resistance and consumes no political capital insofar as the central government is concerned.

    Hopefully, they won’t go with #2. Otherwise, as FOARP suggests, it might harken back to TAM all over again, in which case we can be sure that for decades to come, officially, this never happened.


  4. This tactic–surrounding a city and starving its residents until they capitulated–was used by the PLA against the Nationalists in the civil war.

    Some scholars have said that more Chinese people died in the PLA’s Siege of Changchun than in the Rape of Nanking.

    I hope everyone in Wukan is safe and gets food and whatever else they need.


  5. This won’t be the impetus for a nationwide rebellion but it is a demonstration of what the people are capable of when enough are screwed past the tipping point. Broke local governments are already getting desperate for income, so land grabs will be even more aggressive – and as this event suggests, so will the resistance. If nothing else, hopefully it’s a least a warning to other local governments…and hopefully a warning to the central government of what could happen if they don’t resume reforms and start giving substantive public accountability – at least at the local level.


  6. Fight against corruption and greed, the world community will support you…..


  7. SWCC (Socialism with Chinese Characteristics) is characterized by pragmatism. The stated goal is to maintain stability and grow the economy so that the largest number of Chinese citizens can improve their lives, year in and year out.

    With the establishment of New China, Mao inherited a nation that was poorer than poor. Over 90% agrarian, over 80% illiterate. Mao was a brilliant military strategist, as his handling of both the American back KMT, and the mighty American invasion forces in Korea, showed. But Mao was not a good manager of peacetime economy. The first 30 years of the young republic saw an economy that left a lot to be desired.

    When Deng took over the rein in 1978, the nation with the largest population in the world (I think it was 9.65 Billion at that time), had a GDP per capita that was literally at the bottom end. Some estimated it to be No. 2 LOWEST. That was history.

    But in the 33 years since Deng’s prescription of “实事求是” pragmatism was implemented, the Chicoms led SWCC had literally been the best performing economic system in human history. By 2011, China is approximately 50% urbanized, 97% literate, and having the world’s largest steel, cement, and aluminum industries­, 90% of rare earths produced, No. 2 supercompu­ter in the world, the fastest and biggest high speed train network, etc., etc., AND with $3.2 Trillion in cash to spare, and almost NO foreign debts, after 33 years of unbroken growth at close to 10%.

    The future of China lies in continued urbanization. A country cannot be rich with half of its folks living hand to mouth on the land. With a nation of limited land resources, future urbanization in China WILL mean taking land from the current users.

    First of all, if a killing is wrong, the perpetrators should be swiftly put to the law, and punished justly to further deterrence, and due compensation sought and given. If executions are necessary, so be it. You kill, you pay with your life; that is the Chinese way. But the issue of the dead village negotiator must be segregated from the underlying issue of who should have control over land use, and whether the existing user (or quasi owner) should and could be compensated.

    Most land in China still remains owned by the State. So purely from a legal ownership and procedural point of view, the village administration of Wukan probably is within its rights to dispose of the land for the best and highest use. However, the practical limitation is that ideas of free market have often caused the current users to hold out for higher RMB compensation. Feelings are further fanned, when society can see that the developers, who clearly have bribed many on their way up, are rich beyond comparison (most of the richest in China were developers until the recent Beijing imposed downturn). The perception leads to seething anger, bubbling over as demonstrations that threaten social stability.

    Chicoms’ ultimate goal, looking back at Deng’s various speeches over the years, is to improve the lives of as many Chinese as possible. Deng had initially instructed that it is OK to have some regions of China get rich first. But too much concentration of wealth is anathema to the goal of improving everyone’s lives.

    It would seem that a simple (at the risk of being simplistic) solution would be to impose a national law, that mandates that current users/owners (whose land is taken) automatically become stakeholders in the real estate projects. It does not have to be a large percentage – 5%, 10%, but it should be a fixed immutable number that the lower level officials cannot change. The stakes can be freely traded, with the law prohibiting (and rendering legally void) attempts by the developer or the local government officials to buy the stakes at artificially low prices). So the displaced could have a wad of cash to start new lives, or hang on to it and pass it to progeny. Society can gain a vibrant market for a new form of real estate rights. That way a wide swath of Chinese society would benefit as the nation continues its march on to 80% urbanization.


  8. The pigheaded (moi) is already having second thoughts!! The 5 or 10% stake has to be based on being paid 5 or 10% of the SALE PRICE of the property being developed. If it is a stake in the enterprise, no doubt there would be no profits and thus meaningless.

    But the mechanics does not change the basic assumption – folks are angry if they end up “getting nothing.” Having an actual stake in the development (even if not as glorious as that exemplified by Hua Xi Village), would go a long way of ensuring social stability.


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