Wukan, a coastal fishing village in Guangdong, has been back under the media spotlight over the past week thanks to the arrest of elected village head Lin Zuluan and his grandson on June 18 on corruption charges after Lin called for a protest in Shanwei city against seizures of village land without prior approval from the village government and villagers.
To prepare for the protest, Lin divorced his wife, cut family ties and declared on China's Twitter-like Weibo that he was prepared to sacrifice his life for the village. Two days after his arrest, Lin appeared in a video released by the Lufeng third-tier city procuratorate and Shanwei second-tier city government confessing that he had taken bribes. State-owned CCTV news posted the video on Twitter:
Lin Zulian, democratically elected leader of Wukan village in Guangdong Province, confesses to taking “huge bribes”https://t.co/U8cr9zO5lG
— CCTVNEWS (@cctvnews) June 21, 2016
Lin said in the video:
Due to my lack of legal knowledge, I received kickbacks from civil engineering projects, and received huge kickbacks from the village’s collective asset purchases as well. This is my biggest crime.
But villagers from Wukan firmly believe that Lin was forced into confession to protect his grandson, who was still detained in Lufeng's police station at the time of Lin's confession. Over the next few days, hundreds of villagers rallied for Lin's release. Below are some photos of the protest that circulated on Twitter.
— Bill Ide 易順泰 (@Bill_Ide) June 22, 2016
— Xinyan (@xinyanyu) June 22, 2016
Wukan caught the world's attention in December 2011 after a series of protests against corruption and land seizures. In reaction to the death of a major protest organizer in prison, thousands of villagers sieged the local government building. Eventually, the provincial government stepped in to investigate the problem of land seizures. They set free a number of protesters, acknowledged the need to resolve the dispute in a mutually agreeable manner and held a re-election of village officials. In March 2012, Lin Zulan, who led the protests, was elected as the village head.
After five years, the problem of land seizures is still unsettled, and grassroots leaders including Lin Zulan decided in early June to organize another round of protests, appealing to the upper-level Shanwei city government.
To prepare for the protests, Lin posted a divorce statement on his Weibo on June 12 (text below via investigative online news platform The Initium):
為了烏坎的事，甲乙雙方自願脱離夫妻關係 […] 現有的家庭成員，今後的稱呼是朋友，鄰居，不管以後一方暴屍野外也不用埋修，由自願信群火化後，全撒在虎頭山，只留肖像.
For the sake of Wukan, both parties agree to divorce […] Now I will just call my family friends and neighbors. In the future, either one of the parties die, the other party do not have the responsibility to take care of the dead body. Let the body be incinerated by followers, let the ashes spread on Fushan [the hill near Wukan village]. Only photo be remained on earth.
It is an open secret that Chinese authorities use family relationships to exert control over activists. Lin demonstrated his determination in the struggle by divorcing the wife and cutting filial ties with others. Another protest organizer, Chang Jinxin, echoed the sentiment behind Lin's status on Weibo:
It is necessary to put our relationships and feelings aside for big issues. Have to walk away from family so that you won't be bound by emotion and family attachments. This is the will and the only choice of a man taking a stand.
On June 15, Lin Zuluan submitted an application to the upper-level Donghai town government to prepare for the protests in Shanwei city on June 21. He wrote on the protest application document:
The interest of the collective village has been infringed by local authorities… the local government has not implemented the advice issued by the working team of the provincial government and has allowed [property developer] Huahui to exploit the land.
Huahui has started a 170,000 square meter property development project on Wukan farmlands without the approval of the village committee and villagers. However, the developer insists that the Donghai town government has approved the construction project.
Beyond Lin's arrest, the Shanwei city government has accused Hong Kong media outlets, including Apple Daily and the Initium, of inciting, planning and directing protests in the village.
On Weibo, a large portion of comments accused the Shanwei government of staging the TV confession and covering up local corruption:
Lin was set to lead the petition, and you impose criminal charges on him.
“Anti-corruption” is such a useful word. It can be used to attack your political opponent and to incriminate the people's hero.
If his family hadn't been arrested, would he say such things? This is turning white into black… Take a look at Lin, when he lied to admit his crime, he kept rubbing his hands and blinking his eyes. He was reciting words. [..]
This is clearly not Lin's tongue! The speech uses written expressions. People see clearly what it is all about.
Secretary Lin is elected by villagers from Wukan. We need Lin. Or if Lin is really corrupt, when the Lufeng government sent the few dozen armed police officers to arrest the old man after midnight, shouldn't the villagers be happy about it? Why are all the villagers trying to reach out to the media to rescue him? Because he is the only person villagers can trust, people in Wukan need Lin.
You threaten him by arresting his grandson, totally shameless. The whole thing is crystal clear to people and you still self-direct such a lie. You are digging your own grave.