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Posted at 10:59 AM ET, 12/14/2011

Chinese village put on lockdown amid growing unrest

For the past four months, thousands of residents of the fishing village of Wukan in China’s Guangdong province have been protesting. The unrest began after the local government seized and sold off nearly $154 million worth of their land.

Now, police have sealed off Wukan and cut food supplies to the village, hoping to crush the uprising there once and for all. Supplies are already running low, and police are also preventing villagers from fishing, residents say.


Thousands of residents carry a banner reading, “Democratic appeal can hardly be illegal rally” as they protest in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong province on Wednesday. (AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
“Nobody dares to leave the village now. If you want to leave, you have to sign your name. We don’t know what that means,” said Qiu, a villager whom the Associated Press reached by phone. “Most of us are just too scared to go out.”

Telegraph correspondent Malcolm Moore, who has been reporting from Wukan, wrote Tuesday: “For the first time on record, the Chinese Communist party has lost all control, with the population of 20,000 in this southern fishing village now in open revolt.”

A village elder told Moore that the protests began when the villagers realized the value of the land taken by the government. “Almost all of our land has been taken away from us since the 1990s, but we were relaxed about it before because we made our money from fishing,” Yang Semao said. “Now, with inflation rising, we realise we should grow more food.”

Shanghaiist, a Chinese blog, explains that while protests have been constant over the last several months, the situation began to escalate rapidly last Friday, when authorities arrested five of the13 representatives villagers had appointed to negotiate a solution.

On Sunday, villagers and riot police clashed at barricades villagers had set up to keep police out.

And on Monday, one of the arrested representatives, Xue Jinbo, died in police custody of reported “cardiac failure.” His family and villagers say they believe he was beaten and then killed.

The Financial Times reports that two children, ages 9 and 13, were also “badly injured” in the protests and that one may have died.

Videos posted online Monday showed hundreds of villagers gathered in protest, many of them shouting slogans as they pumped their fists in the air:

Moore reported Tuesday that there were no police or government officials left in Wukan.

It is the first time I've been anywhere without police in the almost four years I've been in China and it didn't just feel liberating to me - the villagers are exuberant. There's a constant buzz of excitement in the air, as young men run around, using walkie talkies to organise the resistance. Unlike many villages in the countryside, Wukan is also full of children, who seem to be enjoying the upheaval and sudden distraction of their parents.

In a concession to villagers, the nearby Lufeng city government released a statement Wednesday saying that the arrested representatives who are still in jail would be allowed a visit with family members.

Land seizure has become a major problem in the Chinese countryside, where it has increasingly led to protests and clashes with local police. “But we’ve never seen anything like this before,” Shanghaiist writes, “where a town of 20,000 has staged a complete rebellion and wrested control from authorities.”

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By  |  10:59 AM ET, 12/14/2011

Tags:  World, China, Guangdong province, Wukan, Lifeng, land grab

 
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