24 July 2019
Wukan protests and the subsequent crackdown by authorities came as China has been adopting an ultra-left party line under the nation's current leadership. Photo: HKEJ
Wukan protests and the subsequent crackdown by authorities came as China has been adopting an ultra-left party line under the nation's current leadership. Photo: HKEJ

What two ’913′ incidents, 45 years apart, tell us about China

On September 13, 1971, Marshal Lin Biao (林彪), Mao Zedong’s handpicked successor, fled China after a failed coup attempt and subsequently died in a mysterious plane crash in Mongolia.

Forty-five years later, on the morning of September 13, 2016, heavily armed police raided Wukan village (烏坎村) near Lufung (陸豐市) city in Guangdong province and arrested 13 villagers who had taken part in a protest earlier demanding the release of their village chief, Lin Zulian (林祖戀).

Lin had been arrested and detained by authorities in June just days before he was scheduled to lead a sit-in at the county government headquarters in defense of his fellow villagers’ land rights.

During the raid on Wukan this month, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd, injuring dozens of villagers, some of whom were in critical condition, media reports have said.

Wukan hit international headlines in 2011 when its residents, under the leadership of Lin, staged an uprising and expelled a corrupt party secretary who had been found selling farmland without the villagers’ consent and pocketing all the profits. The villagers later held an election which saw Lin elected both as their village chief and new party secretary.

It is widely believed that Lin was arrested this year in retaliation for leading the revolt five years ago. And county authorities raided Wukan using excessive force in order to punish the villagers for their defiance.

On the surface, the two “913 incidents” which took place 45 years apart seem hardly related to each other. However, the truth is that both the incidents had their roots in the one-party dictatorship in the mainland, under which there is no sharing of power and no rule of law whatsoever.

In the case of Lin Biao, he could have avoided fleeing the country and dying in a mysterious accident if he had been given the right to a fair trial in China.

As far as Lin Zulian is concerned, the fact that he was arrested, then framed for corruption and embezzlement and sentenced to three years in jail in retaliation for defending the rights of his fellow villagers shows that even after 45 years, China remains an unjust society where might is right, and where the law is just a tool for the tyrannical regime to subjugate its people.

In today’s China, the power of determining whether someone is guilty or not still rests with Communist Party officials and political officers rather than the court of law.

The Wukan crackdown is the latest in a long list of such incidents in the countryside, given that tens of millions of rural peasants across China have been subject to oppression from corrupt local party officials over the years.

The villagers have seen their civil rights violated, their lives threatened, and their land taken away against their will.

It has almost become an open secret that many local party officials and powerful real-estate developers have been colluding in seizing land from peasants across the country as they aim to build luxury homes and make big bucks.

The activities result in forced relocation of villagers, often leading to protests by the affected people.

To make things worse, peasants and civil rights activists who sought to seek justice from either the provincial or central authorities have been arrested, detained or even tortured to death by law enforcement agencies and stability maintenance offices (維穩辦公室) in the name of upholding social harmony.

Although under the constitution of the People’s Republic of China, all farmland in rural villages is, in theory, owned collectively by villagers, in reality everybody knows that peasants have no say at all because all the land is controlled by local party officials, who in most cases won’t hesitate to sell the property and pocket the profits at the expense of the interest of their fellow villagers.

Under former president Hu Jintao, the political climate in the mainland was a lot more relaxed, and Beijing was relatively tolerant of civil rights movements in rural regions. This helped bring about a peaceful resolution of the Wukan crisis initially in 2011.

Unfortunately, after Xi Jinping, or “Emperor Xi”, took power in 2012, he began to mount a massive crackdown on civil society. Under his current ultra-left and Maoist party line, local authorities have been ordered to get tough with peasants who dare to air their grievances.

Under the system of one-party dictatorship, party officials are above the law, and the average individual simply has no channel to seek justice when their civil rights are violated. As authorities resort to oppressive tactics on the pretext of maintaining stability, it is only adding to the grievances of the rural folk and fueling a sense of resentment.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 15.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist

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