Symbol of China’s rural democracy: five years of struggle in Wukan land grab protests

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 September, 2016, 4:24pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 June, 2017, 10:55pm

Over the past five years, protests in the remote village of Wukan, Guangdong province, have made headline news around the world.

The village has emerged as a symbol of China’s rural democracy as residents staged demonstrations against illegal land seizures and corruption.

‘We’re scared and dare not go out’: food shortage as Wukan in police lockdown after clashes over protest leader’s arrest

WATCH: Wukan in police lockdown after clashes

Many Chinese villages have been victimised by corrupt land deals caused by rapid urbanisation and non-transparent land laws, but their inhabitants’ plight has rarely been heard by the world.

But the mass demonstrations by Wukan villagers, which began in 2011 and were followed by an election to remove unpopular village officials, were different.

However, now the authorities have resumed their heavy-handed crackdown on dissent.

Popular village chief Lin Zuluan was jailed for taking bribes on September 8, and on Tuesday more than a dozen villagers were arrested in violent clashes with police early that day.

WATCH: Riot police clash with Wukan villagers

Here we take a look back at the pivotal moments of the long-running dispute.

September 21, 2011

Protests begin as thousands of villagers from Wukan crowd the streets in front of Lufeng city’s municipal government offices and the police station to call on the government to handle the land and election disputes, triggered by allegations of land seizures and corruption. Clashes with police lead to dozens of people being injured.

September to November

Without a consensus being reached between government officials and villages, Wukan residents continue to stage protests and organise a mass rally. Violence erupts on several occasions between the police and villagers, leading to hundreds of Wukan residents staging a mass demonstration outside the Lufeng government offices demanding the return of their land, a crackdown on graft and the replacement of corrupt officials.

Five years since landmark protests, Chinese village stirs again

December 9

Conflicts intensify as the Shanwei city government holds a press conference and says it has responded to all the reasonable demands of Wukan villages.

Five leading protesters, including Xue Jinbo, Hong Ruichao and Zhuang Liehong, are arrested and some village organisations are ruled illegal by local authorities.

WATCH: Chinese official tries to smash journalists’ cameras while being asked over Wukan village chief’s arrest

December 11

Lufeng officials announce the death of Xue, 42, from a “heart attack” three days after his detention. Xue’s family challenges the claim, which sparks another round of protests and leads to police blocking off access to Wukan village.

Late December

Zhu Mingguo, then deputy party chief of Guangdong, is appointed head of a working group to resolve the Wukan dispute and holds a meeting with Lin Zuluan. Zhu promises to release the remaining detained villagers, reinvestigate the cause of Xue’s death and halt the crackdown on villagers.

Two days later, Zhang Jiancheng and two other detained villagers are released on bail, awaiting trial, marking the end of the stand-off between villagers and the authorities.

Wukan elects village chief, but not all are happy

February and March 2012

Wukan villagers elect a new village chief, Lin Zuluan, along with 106 other village representatives. A new village committee is also formed. The voter turnout is at least 80 per cent, mainland media reports.

January 2014

Protest leader Zhuang Liehong, worried about becoming the target of a crackdown by authorities, flees to the United States where he seeks political asylum.


Two of the leaders of the Wukan village protests are detained. Yang Semao, a businessman in his late 40s, is accused of taking bribes and is jailed for two years. Hong Ruichao, the deputy village chief, who is also charged with bribery is jailed for four years.


Party official Zhu Mingguo is placed under investigation and charged with taking bribes. In May 2016 a tearful Zhu admits “a grave mistake” of accepting bribes of more than 140 million yuan (HK$166 million).

Senior Guangdong official Zhu Mingguo expelled from party over graft

WATCH: Arrested Wukan village chief’s wife describes overnight grab of her husband

June 18, 2016

Lin Zuluan, Wukan’s village chief, is detained by the Guangdong authorities just as villagers prepare to fight fresh land grabs.

July 21

Lin is formally arrested on bribery charges.

September 8

Chancheng district court in ­Foshan jails Lin for more than three years and fines him 200,000 yuan for taking bribes, after he reportedly pleads guilty to two corruption charges. He is convicted of accepting bribes of 440,000 yuan related to building projects in Wukan plus 150,000 yuan in kickbacks over other deals on behalf of the village committee.

Wukan: a village living in fear following arrest of party chief

September 13

Most Wukan villagers reject the court’s decision. More than 10 people are arrested in clashes as police fire tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters.