Friday, December 23, 2011

Wukan update: you don't really know

A few interesting points to take away from the two New York Times articles yesterday about Wukan (Canny Villagers Grasp Keys to Loosen China's Muzzle; Demonstrators Who Took Over Chinese Village Halt Protest).

The villagers have been very welcoming of reporters. They even set up an impromptu "press center":

On one wall of the living room was a portrait of God staring down from the heavens. Below that was a small wooden cross with a figure of Jesus. And below that, taped to the wall, was a white sheet of paper with a statement in Chinese and English. It beseeched reporters not to call the protest an “uprising.”

“We are not a revolt,” it said. “We support the Communist Party. We love our country.”

Of course. In a country whose citizens are as outwardly apolitical as here, no one wants to risk their livelihoods over ideology. People would much rather cooperate, get what's theirs. In this case, we're not exactly sure what that is. Perhaps to keep their homes or be properly compensated? Though that seems like an unlikely result, for land disputes never end well for the majority of people. Expect a compromise in which some profit while most get just barely enough to begrudgingly stop their demonstrations.

You know how sometimes, at the scene of a fight or an accident, everyone rubbernecks it or gathers around to watch? This happens all the time here. Public disputes are a spectacle, a free show. But ask someone to intervene, and watch them turn their heads. Anyway, I wonder how much of what's happening in Wukan is simply a spectacle for the villagers. They don't actually want to risk anything, and you can't really blame them, or say "too bad," for there's a measure of hypocrisy in that sort of response -- we too just want a spectacle, don't we? Because we're safe and sound wherever we're at, and god forbid we're the ones asked to make the real sacrifices in the name of change.

In midmorning, as officials began arriving outside the village, hundreds of residents lined the roadside. Dozens held up a red banner that welcomed the officials “to come to Lufeng to resolve the Wukan incident.”

And the central government's stance?

On Thursday, People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, criticized local officials for letting the situation spiral out of control while praising the efforts of Mr. Wang’s team to resolve the dispute. The provincial officials “created the basic conditions for stability and harmony” in Wukan, the newspaper said.

And finally:

There was relief that the blockade of the village was ending, but also fear among some residents. What would happen, they wondered, once all the outsiders decamped and the spotlight shifted away from Wukan?

“I’m afraid they might come and take people away,” said Huang Rongrui, 40, a construction worker. “The local government always says one thing, but does another.”

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