Yang Semao, the representative of Wukan village, delivers a speech on December 19, 2011, in Guangdong Province.Photo: ibtimes.com
Villagers in Wukan, Guangdong Province, decided Wednesday to suspend their protest after provincial authorities recognized their main demands in a land dispute and vowed to crack down on corruption.
The local government's concession was hailed by analysts as an example for future resolution of social problems, even though the villagers said they only hope the authorities can deliver on their promises.
"We have called off our plan to march to the city government of Lufeng after Zhu Mingguo, Guangdong's deputy Party secretary, met with us and agreed to protect our interests," Yang Semao, one of the protest leaders, told the Global Times.
"Zhu promised to acknowledge the legitimacy of the village's temporary representative council and agreed to release those arrested," Yang said.
In September, the villagers started to protest against electoral fraud by village heads and to stop farmland seizure by property developers. The protest turned violent on 21 and 22 that month, with people attacking the village committee and destroying an industrial park.
The council was set up by the villagers through elections after they drove village officials out, but was banned on December 3 by the Lufeng government. Since last week, villagers had warded off police and held protests after Xue Jinbo, an alleged deputy chief of the council, died in police custody earlier this month.
Wang Yang, secretary of the Guangdong Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, said Tuesday that the Wukan incident is a result of long neglect of the social problems that have accumulated during the process of economic and social development.
Wang Yukai, a professor with the Chinese Academy of Governance, told the Global Times that it would be significant if the representative council elected by villagers themselves could be recognized by authorities.
"Grass-roots elections have been hit by corruption, but this time the council is purely chosen by the villagers," Wang Yukai said.
According to the Nanfang Daily, Zhu told village representatives on Tuesday that the main demands of the villagers are reasonable, and the extreme behavior of some villagers was understandable.
"There have been mistakes in local government work. Before September 21, petitions by Wukan villagers were rational and supported by fact. For those who engaged in extreme activities, admission of wrongdoing will be sufficient to exonerate them," Zhu said.
"We need to prioritize villagers' legitimate demands and resolve the incident through law. The government guarantees freedom of movement for those chosen to represent the villagers in negotiations," Zhu added, vowing to crack down on corruption.
According to the Nanfang Daily, two village officials have been put under investigation for fraud.
"We welcomed the authorities' reactions, which showed their sincerity in solving the problem," Yang said, adding that the local government had agreed to return the body of Xue and probe the cause of his death.
Wang Yukai applauded the Guangdong government's approach.
"There have been some cases of local authorities trying to cover up government wrongdoings in similar clashes. Some officials even tried to demonize people's reasonable demands for their own political gains," Wang Yukai said yesterday.
The provincial government's stance on the Wukan incident should be promoted throughout the country, he added.
Xia Xueluan, a professor with the Department of Sociology at Peking University, agreed.
"It was the right move for the Guangdong government to solve the problem through dialogue, instead of aggravating the disputes with confrontation," Xia told the Global Times, adding that the situation has already had a huge impact in society.
"If the government had carried out appropriate measures to supervise village officials and punish corrupt ones, the situation wouldn't have turned out to be so serious," Xia said.
Meanwhile, Yang said that all the armed police besieging the village had left at 7 pm on Tuesday, and all the barricades set by the villagers to block the armed police were also removed.
"We decided to cancel our plan to submit a petition to higher authorities. Life will go back to normal. I believe there is still a long way to go to realize all our demands. I'm cautiously optimistic on whether the government will keep its word," Yang said.
Meanwhile, there was another incident posing a challenge to the Guangdong government.
Instigated by a few people, several hundred residents in Haimen township, Chaozhou, who were "unaware of the truth," gathered yesterday in front of the local government and blocked a section of highway to protest against a local power station project, the Shantou Daily reported.
"China is in a period when the widening wealth gap and corruption trigger people's discontent, especially in coastal areas like Guangdong, which took the lead in the country's opening-up policy and has built up a relatively mature civil society," Xia said.
Yang Jingjie contributed to this story