Yang Semao, the representative of Wukan village, delivers a speech on December 19, 2011, in Guangdong Province.Photo: ibtimes.com
Life in the village of Wukan, Guangdong Province returned to normal as provincial authorities began investigating alleged fraud by local officials, but villagers said they would continue petitioning if their demands are not met.
"Daily work in the village has resumed. The investigation team began consultations with us. They wrote down our appeals and offered contacts, agreeing to answer our calls and listen to our opinions at any time," Yang Semao, one of the village representatives, told the Global Times yesterday.
"We demand the return of our farmland and the publication of the village committee's financial records. We want a re-election of the committee. We also hope authorities can redefine the character of the incident. If the requirements are not met, we will continue petitioning," Yang said, adding that he had no idea how long the investigation will take.
On Monday, local authorities said they reclaimed 269,000 square meters of farmland from property developers and promised to come up with new plans for the land under the approval of the villagers.
Yang said the land in question was just a small part of the dispute.
"A lot more farmland than that was occupied or transferred without giving us any compensation," he said.
Yang's remarks could not be immediately verified.
Residents in Wukan have held several protests since September, accusing the village committee of selling their farmland illegally and conducting rigged elections. They also complained about the lack of education resources and pollution.
However, local authorities initially tried to confront the villagers, saying the protests were instigated by forces outside China and accusing the villagers of pinning their hopes on irresponsible media.
Tensions escalated earlier this month after Xue Jinbo, 42, an alleged leader of the protests, died in police custody. Villagers in Wukan then set up blockades to stop police from entering the village.
The situation saw a turnaround Tuesday after senior provincial officials acknowledged the villagers' basic demands, admitted to mistakes by village leaders and vowed to crack down on corruption.
Mao Shoulong, a professor of public policy at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times that the provincial government's engagement heralded an evenhanded resolution of the issue.
"The intervention is hard-earned progress, which rebutted previous claims by local authorities that the villagers had organized the protests 'out of malicious attempts,'" Mao said.
Lin Zhe, a professor of anti-corruption research at the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), said she hopes the provincial authorities' intervention has not come too late to mend the damage.
"If the local authorities had properly studied the complaints at the initial stages, the violence would not have happened. The case reflected local officials' poor sense of law and long-term neglect of the public's rights and interests," Lin said.
"As society transitions, there will inevitably be increasing conflicts among various groups, with their appeals being more diverse and the conflicts more explicit," the People's Daily commented yesterday.
"Suppression is not the correct way to address reasonable public demands, as that will only result in worse confrontation between the people and the authorities. Therefore, promptly identifying and addressing the people's most direct and pragmatic interests should be the top priority of the political agenda," it said.
Separately, just 115 kilometers from Wukan, hundreds of disgruntled villagers from the fishing township of Haimen in the Chaoyang district of Shantou gathered again yesterday near a toll gate on an expressway to protest for a third day.
The protest was triggered by local's concerns over the environmental impact of a planned expansion of a coal-fired power plant.
Chen Xinzao, secretary of the CPC Chaoyang District Committee, told the Xinhua News Agency that five people were detained by police Wednesday for alleged vandalism.
"No one has died since the incident took place," Chen said, dismissing reports of the death of a teenage boy and woman in clashes.
The Shantou city government announced Tuesday evening that the project would be suspended.
"If the Wukan incident can be handled properly, I hope it can become a lesson for officials in other places in terms of preventing the escalation of disputes and providing smooth channels for submitting petitions," Mao said.
Also on Wednesday, Zhou Yongkang, chief of domestic security, urged law-and-order cadres to ensure "a harmonious and stable social setting" ahead of the CPC's 18th Congress late next year, Xinhua reported.
"(We must) deepen our efforts to mediate conflicts and disputes, improve the system of mediation to resolve conflicts and disputes at the grass-roots level and nip them in the bud," Zhou said.
"We must also adhere to civilized standards of law enforcement, and deal with mass incidents and individual extremist events according to the law," he added.
Liu Linlin contributed to this story