The Wukan Elections on Social Media

Just in case you’re out of the loop: villagers in Wukan hit the polls today. Although there are elections in villages all over China, this one is especially significant given what led up to it and the extent to which it has got people elsewhere in China thinking about democracy.

For on the ground information, you should look to Tom Lasseter and Louisa Lim, who are actually in Wukan and have been tweeting updates and photos all day. As I’m not in Wukan, I thought I’d take a look at what’s on Weibo instead. (Sure it’s lazy and overdone, but Weibo will probably be dead soon, so I’ve got to strike while the iron is still hot).

With regards to censorship, searches for the “Wukan” are no longer blocked, but it does appear that Sina is at least downplaying the interest in the elections by keeping it off of the trending topics list. As of Saturday evening at around 8:00, Wukan posts were coming in at a rate of several (1-3 on average) per minute, significantly faster than some of the topics that were trending at the same time (average of less than 1 new post per minute). Now, this wasn’t exactly a scientific study or anything, but it does appear that from a posts-per-minute perspective, the Wukan elections should appear on the national trending topics list. That it doesn’t may be a result of the fact that the list is handpicked, not automatic.

But, like I said, searches for “Wukan” are still allowed and posts about the elections don’t seem to be getting deleted. The Chinese media is also covering and discussing the elections, so it’s clearly getting more play than it was back when the town was a rebel village under siege (no surprise there).

As you might expect, the Weibo messages from Wukan residents themselves today are mostly about the election, and from the accounts I’ve looked out there seems to be more-or-less universal satisfaction and pride. They’re sharing stories about old people voting for the first time and kindhearted volunteers helping keep the voting area clean. They’ve also been passing around this comparison photo made by a Beijing netizen that compares the scene today in Beijing (left), Wukan (center), and Hong Kong (right):

(The idea here is that the dog-and-pony-show “two meetings” in Beijing doesn’t compare favorably to the democracy in Wukan or the free criticism of political leaders in Hong Kong.)

Many others outside Wukan are also comparing the elections there to the CPPCC/NPC meetings in Beijing. In one popular post from earlier tonight, a netizen wrote, that the consciousness of the Chinese people is “reduced” by the CPPCC/NPC meetings but is “awakened” by the elections in Wukan.

Among intellectuals, there’s also the expected discussion and qualifying of this “victory” for Wukan’s system, as expressed (among other places) in this comment by a fairly popular independent scholar:

I’ve never been opposed to one-person-one-vote, what I’m opposed to is the worship of one-person-one-vote. It’s just the most shallow layer of democracy. If that’s all you have, and you don’t have any of the deeper layers that separate and restrict the powers [of government institutions] then there’s no way to prevent autocracy.

Most people seem to be happy for and/or jealous of Wukan, and many also see it as a sign of impending reforms or, for some, more sweeping changes:

Wukan is the beginning of Chinese democracy, a single spark can ignite a prairie fire.

We’ll see. As of now, I don’t believe they’re even finished counting the votes. But how things will look in a year is even less clear. Still, it’s hard not to feel good about what’s happening there right now, for me personally and, it appears, for an awful lot of Sina Weibo users, too.

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0 thoughts on “The Wukan Elections on Social Media”

  1. Thanks for the Wukan update. I’m very curious to see how this plays out. I have some doubts that it will all work out the way we’d like it to. Part of me fears that there’s absolutely no way Beijing would allow this to unfold in a manner that undercuts its authority. Why allow all this media coverage if they don’t have some trick up their sleeve. I hope I’m wrong. What if they buy votes? What if they rig the election? Then what happens?

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  2. Guess I was a little late to the party on my earlier comment. According to the Washington Post, two of the village protesters won the election(s).

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  3. I highly doubt that the Wukan incident will lead to any meaningful political reform within the CCP. While I am glad that Wukan villagers finally can have another election, I think the most significant aspect is that Wukan had a transparent election.

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  4. Unfortunately, I would have to agree. Someone I read today said it well: “Wukan shows what is possible, not what is probable”.

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  5. ……this one is especially significant given what led up to it and the extent to which it has got people elsewhere in China thinking about democracy.

    ***********************

    What happened in India and in Russia, what has happened since 2008 financial crisis never got people in “free” world thinking about democracy.

    Well, in “free” world, if “free” press doesn’t think, neither will “free” people.

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  6. Does anybody know exactly what the voters in Wukan are voting for? English-language media reports are unclear. It makes it sound like they are voting for People’s Government officials, but everybody knows that what really matters are the Communist Party leaders. Maybe there is a tacit understanding that whoever is elected to the People’s Government or at least their allies will also be appointed to Party positions. I’m aware that one of the protesters has already been appointed as the local CCP chief, which is nice, but having somebody nice appointed from above doesn’t establish the precedent of democratic rule.

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  7. Deleted, off topic..

    *****************

    LOL,

    I talked about result, you guys keep talking about if the process is “right”.

    Well, that is the difference between human society and science. In human society, “right” processes don’t necessarily lead to right result.

    and that is the difference between westerner and chinese : chinese judge by results. (the cat theory)

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  8. Nonsense. First of all, not all westerners or Chinese are the same. Any sentence that begins with “The difference between Westerners and Chinese…” is going to end with something dumb. That said, it’s not that any of us are putting emphasis on the process, it’s that we value different results than you.

    Because, if you asked me to forget everything I know about the system in both countries, forget all the history, and just choose a country to live in based on the pure conditions that exist now and nothing else (i.e. ignore family obligations, etc.) I would choose to live in the US. It’s not that we like democracy without regard for the results, it’s that many of us — even now — many of us look at China and say, ‘I’d prefer the US, warts and all.’ Not because we think the system in China is “wrong”, but because we don’t like the results.(The results are why we think the system is wrong).

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  9. What results do they know beside what “free” media told them?
    Did they ever have a clue what is the reason for financial crisis? Do they know this world is not either 1 or 0, that there are kind of system between western democracy and north korea system?
    Of course they make that decision as they dont think their system will cause many problems, because they follow the “right” process.

    Oh, as their “free” media never talk about the problems that may be caused by system, it must be the government because “free” say so.

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