By Paolo von Schirach
February 3, 2012
WASHINGTON – Is the small village of Wukan on Southern China’s coast destined to become famous? Could it be that decades from now China scholars will refer to the “Wukan Rebellion” as the critical event that led to the beginning of a democratic transformation of this gigantic, and in many ways puzzling, great Nation?
Will they tell the story of how humble village people rebelled against their corrupt local leaders responsible, as elsewhere in China, for underhanded land grabs leading to lucrative real estate deals with developers? Will historians recount how the villagers expelled all the officials and refused to deal with the authorities creating a real “mutiny” that placed the Communist Party in a truly awkward position?
How to deal with a rebellion?
Will the record show that the authorities felt that they could not just move in with force and subdue the unruly villagers? And will the record show that the bold move to finally empower the local people by appointing as new local Communist Party Chief the actual leader of the rebellion was not just Machiavellian cunning but a sincere recognition of the people’s voice? Will the new local elections be conducted fairly? Will they lead to elected leaders who really represent the local voices, the Wukan people who want clean government?
Obviously an experiment of such potential political significance had to be authorized at a very high level. And it is important that the Chinese media are covering this unfolding story. Again, this would never happen without appropriate clearances. But, in the end, is this election just a clever maneuver pushed forward by Guandong Province Party Secretary Wang Yang, as a way to polish his progressive credentials, while he vies for a place in the Politburo Standing Committee this Fall? Or is this the beginning of an honest reform process leading to genuine local representation beyond this small village? Keep in mind that China is a country of 1.2 billion people. Even with the best intentions, how does one manage dramatic political transformations in a country this size? I suspect no one really knows.
Will Wukan become a milestone in modern Chinese history?
Impossible to say at this time how the Wukan experiment will turn out. As the Italians used to say: ”Just one lone swallow is no sure sign of Spring Time“. Wukan village could be a small, self-contained experiment that will turn out badly; or it could become the milestone that future historians will point to when describing the beginning of China’s path to genuine democracy. As I said, we do not know. Nonetheless, allow me to stay positive, at least for now:” Good luck tenacious people of Wukan. Good luck China”.