Leader of Wukan land fight bears burden of responsibility

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 October, 2012, 10:25am

Wukan party secretary Lin Zuluan , 68, has some regrets about stepping out of a long retirement to play a leading role in the political upheaval that gripped the east Guangdong fishing village last year.

"I've known since I was in my 20s that it's no good to be mixed with politics," he said. "It's a cruel game and I'm not interested in it. I only want to live an ordinary life, that's enough.

"Democracy is a luxury only the most affluent can afford. Without a solid economic foundation, it's useless to talk about anything, including democracy."

In September last year, thousands of villagers protested over illegal land grabs and a violent crackdown by the police, in a stand-off with the authorities that lasted three months.

Lin said the last thing the village needed was more unrest.

"We need to get our land back and attract foreign investment after that," he said.

"How can we do that if Wukan is undergoing constant political upheaval?"

Villagers say Lin is a wise, righteous and reputable man who played a key role in helping them fight for their land and resolve conflicts with higher-level governments.

A former People's Liberation Army officer, used to command, Lin is calm, good at drawing up action plans and equally talented at implementing them, say people who know him - perhaps explaining why the Wukan protests had such a big impact.

Lin left the army in 1965 and at one stage served as Wukan's deputy village chief. He was subsequently transferred to the Donghai township government but ended up leaving politics for a career in business.

He returned to Wukan in 1995 when he retired.

Lin said he knew there was no going back when he decided to lead the village's 13,000 people in a massive display of civil disobedience, which made headlines around the world.

He was inspired by a famous saying about battling corruption by former premier Zhu Rongji . Zhu said he would prepare 100 coffins to bury the dead from the fight - 99 for corrupt cadres and one for himself.

However, Lin realised that as an ordinary villager, with no actual power and confronting a network of villains who had stolen their land, his position was slightly different.

"Ninety-nine of those are reserved for me and one to bury crooked officials," Lin said.

Initially reluctant to stand for public office, Lin was encouraged by public trust in him.

"Some people think I've sold out after becoming party secretary but I'm still myself and have not changed a bit," he said. "I'm a practical person, I don't fantasise or get into sloganeering. With such low pay and such a heavy workload, why would anyone persist in such a position without a genuine desire to do good?"

Lin is entitled to 1,800 yuan (HK$2,205) a month as village chief but only takes one yuan as nominal pay.

Reflecting on his first six months as a directly-elected village leader, Lin said he had been overwhelmed by the torrent of tasks and meetings.

"The past six months has really taken a toll on me and I don't know how long I can endure," he said. "I'm often startled at night. The ringing of my door bell unsettles me as it means another villager out there is seeking help."

With the demands of the job and people's high expectations weighing heavily on his shoulders, Lin said he was on the verge of a physical breakdown.

"I fear my frail health will burden the village if I make any bad decisions," he said. "I want to let go but I can't because of the bestowed trust and expectations. I'm caught between a rock and a hard place."