A villager holds a placard that reads "we safeguard the Communist Party of China and the Central Committee." Villagers stage a peaceful demonstration in Wukan village, Lufeng, Guangdong Province onWednesday. Photo: Courtesy of Zhang Chi
Zhang Chi (pseudonym), a 21-year-old man from Wukan village, Lufeng, Guangdong Province, has been unemployed since October. However, he has not stayed idle.
He believes he is doing more important work, protesting the supposed rigging of local elections and illegal land transactions by the village committee. The protests began Monday and ended Wednesday, and occurred without incident.
The protest ended one day after Gan Zangchun, deputy State land inspector-general with the Ministry of Land and Resources, announced that future policies will stress the protection of farmer's legal rights and land.
In order to capitalize on the hasty onset of urbanization and industrialization in rural regions, some local governments tend to ignore land expropriation laws. As a result many farmers lose their land, which is one of main reasons behind rural land disputes, Gan told the Beijing Times.
"Once we heard the announcement, we felt relieved. It is one reason we have halted our protest," Zhang told the Global Times yesterday.
Yesterday morning, about 3,000 villagers held a meeting in Wukan and agreed to return to their daily lives while waiting for a response from the local government, Zhang said.
About 4,000 of the 13,000 villagers who attended the protest, most of whom young people, protested in front of the Lufeng county government building.
"Our slogan is fighting against dictatorship, punishing corruption, and returning our lands," Zhang said.
"The protest was well-prepared and we stayed rational through the whole process," another 44-year-old protester, surnamed Yang, told the Global Times.
The local government could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Previous protests by Wukan villigers did not end peacefully.
The Party secretary in the village, Xue Chang, and village head, Chen Shuiyi, have held their positions for 40 years. During elections at the end of their yearly terms, Xue and the village committee would announce a result based on fake votes, allege villagers.
About 80 percent of the 8,000-mu (533 hectare) village land was sold to property developers, and villagers received no compensation, according to Zhang.
The villagers started a petition in 2009 but never received a response from the local government.
On September 21, about 50 villagers protested in front of the Lufeng county government building. That same day, more than 200 villagers damaged the Wukan Village Committee office and some local industrial facilities, the Guangzhou-based news portal dayoo.com reported.
During the conflict, about 10 police were injured and 6 police cars destroyed. No villager deaths or injuries were reported, the website said. But Zhang said 18 villagers were seriously injured.
The Wukan protest was not the only peaceful protest in Guangdong this month. On November 18, about 100 workers held demonstrations over salaries in Guangzhou, the provincial capital city. Several police cars escorted them and even helped them to devise transportation, the Singapore-based zaobao.com reported.
The government's attitude toward recent peaceful protests is not a coincidence. On November 7, Wang Yang, the Party chief for Guangdong Province, told a conference to solve grass-roots level conflicts according to the law, the Guangzhou Daily reported.
He said the government should balance maintaining stability and basic rights while helping people to express their needs and solve their problems.
He added that strengthening the law and solving grass-roots conflicts are of great significance. Various problems will appear earlier in Guangdong than in inland provinces as Guangdong is at the frontier of Chinese reform and near Hong Kong and Macau, Wang said.
"Usually, the government officials focus strongly on maintaining stability. Now, they also emphasize maintaining people's rights, which marks social progress," Tu Hongbo, a researcher with the Center for Urban Studies at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, told the Global Times.
The government has become more tolerant to popular appeals, Fu Siming, a professor with the Party School of the CPC, told the Global Times.
"The Guangdong leadership's response to the protest embodies their recognition of people's rights," Zhang Liang, a political professor at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times.
Demonstrations and protests are legal rights granted to the people. However, if sometimes people report their demonstration plan to officials, they will not receive approval or be ordered to protest in a remote location, Zhang said. "Both the government and the people need a harmonious society," he said. "The way to fulfill this is whether the government takes full consideration of public opinion."