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China Authorities Respect Villagers More Than Batman

The villagers of Wukan have battled the authorities to a draw in the protest over the sale of village agricultural land.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 12/22/2011, 6:09 AM

The Chinese village of Wukan had greater success with the authorities than Batman.

Batman star Christian Bale was blocked by government-backed guards from visiting a blind activist Chen Guangcheng who is under house arrest in eastern China.

A Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Liu Weimin, accused Bale of violating Chinese hospitality, claiming that the actor was invited to an opening ceremony of a film “but he was not invited to create a story or shoot film in a certain village,” said Liu. “I think if you want to make up news in China, you will not be welcome here".

As opposed to Bale, the Chinese village of Wukan ended its standoff with the party and government authorities after higher level officials negotiated a series of concessions. If carried out,they will at least partially meet the demands of the protest that the villagers have been staging.

The village complains that agricultural lands have been appropriated and sold by the government-appointed village leaders for industrial use at knockdown prices that probably involved kickbacks to the leaders.

In September, the villagers trashed the government office and have since been running the village themselves. The authorities responded by setting up roadblocks and trying to strangle the village into submission. The villagers responded by chopping down trees and using the trunks as roadblocks. The authorities detained members from the village and one of them died in custody, officially from a heart attack. Members of the family, who were not permitted to photograph the body or remove it, claimed that there were signs of beating and torture.

The government has promised to buy back some of the lands, return them to the villagers and stage an impartial autopsy as well as release three other villagers who were taken into custody.

These concessions sufficed for the villagers to call off their protest, although one of the leaders told the Daily Telegraph "The real victory lies ahead. When we can elect our own leader and when we get back all the land the government sold too cheaply, and trace all the money the officials have embezzled and hand it back to the villagers, that will be a victory".

The government decision to seek an accommodation can be explained on both practical and ideological grounds.

On the practical level, the issue of land seizures and government support for industrialization at the expense of property rights and the environment are hot button issues in China. The party itself has criticized some of the actions taken in the past. It did not want to take a chance on the protests spreading further.

The agricultural peasantry occupy a place of honor in Chinese Communist ideology, much in the same way that European communism officially lionized the workers. Eastern European communism could easily crush the intellectuals, but found it more difficult to suppress worker protests like Solidarity.

The same applies to China. Christian Bale is a foreigner and he was trying to meet an intellectual dissident. Against Bale, the Chinese Communist party can easily show who the boss is. Confronted by peasant discontent, the party finds itself ideologically conflicted and am therefore is much more disposed to an accommodation.