Xue Jinbo, the protest leader whose death in police custody last year played a role in triggering one of the most successful grass-roots protest movements on the mainland, has finally been laid to rest, albeit temporarily.
Though the cause of his death is still disputed by Wukan villagers in Guangdong, Xue's family agreed to drop the issue in exchange for the release of his body for burial.
Villager Hong Ruiqing said she and about 80 others left Wukan at around 8am yesterday and went to Shanwei city to retrieve Xue's body, which was buried in the afternoon. Under the agreement with authorities no more than 100 people were allowed to travel and no photography was allowed.
'He was frozen like a block of ice for over three months. His face was blackened, even after the make-up,' Hong said. 'Everyone was so sad to see this, especially his bereaved daughters and wife... They cried until they vomited and couldn't eat or even stand up straight.'
The 43-year-old Xue was taken away by authorities in December, during one of the most intense periods of protests over illegal land grabs by government officials in Wukan. His death triggered a massive outpouring of support for the villagers' cause, emboldening them in a defiant stand-off with authorities. Xue was referred to by villagers and many mainland internet users as a hero for his part in Wukan's struggle for justice and democratic local elections.
Another Wukan protest leader, Zhuang Liehong - who was recently elected one of the villagers' representatives - said Xue was put in a coffin and carried to another funeral home in Lufeng , where a wake was held, before being carried to a graveyard for a temporary burial.
'Make-up was put on Xue, along with the clothes he used to wear, but his mouth was wide open and he appeared in pain. His fists were still clenched tight,' Zhuang said.
Xue Jinbo's daughter, Xue Jianwan, could not be reached for comment, but his son, Xue Jiandi, said a permanent burial would have to wait three or four months, for an auspicious day in the lunar calendar. 'He is buried, but this is a kind of temporary burial ... We will dig up the soil and remove the wooden blocks underneath his coffin for a full, proper burial,' he said.
A memorial service is to be held in the village this afternoon.
Xue was originally detained along with three other protest leaders - Zhuang, Hong Ruichao and Zhang Jiancheng - who were released just before Christmas. The others said they were all subjected to many hours of interrogation and deprived of sleep. Xue died in custody on December 12.
Zhang and Hong said they saw Xue's body being carried out of his cell, and he appeared unconscious. Villagers believe police brutality is to blame, but police say he died of a heart attack. For nearly three months, the authorities had refused to release Xue's body.