The Diplomat on what we can learn from the resolution of the Wukan saga:
Wang believed that the government should act “responsibly” and that the administration must deal with such conflicts directly. Consequently, he established a provincial-level working group under the leadership of Guangdong’s Vice Party Secretary Zhu Mingkuo. According to Wang, “the provincial working group in Wukan will not only ‘settle’ the incident, but it will also provide reference to improve village-level administrations in Guangdong.”
In sharp contrast with Wang’s handling of the dispute, local government officials in Shanwei and Lufeng first labeled the incident as a “riot incited by foreign subversives.” In line with this thinking, the Financial Times quoted an unnamed senior Chinese leader stating: “it would be better for a clear directive from the central authorities to over-react rather than to fall short.” According to a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, other provincial officials complained that Wang set a terrible precedent since other people in protests could demand a similar response.
Yet, most Chinese news reports extolled the peaceful resolution of the incident. Perhaps inspired by what happened in Wukan, villagers in Guangzhou (the capital of Guangdong) and Wenzhou in Zhejiang reportedly demonstrated against their respective villages’ party secretaries and accused them of corruption. A “Wukan Effect” appears to be materializing. Optimists argue that Wukan provides a democratic model for China because it allows villagers to organize local elections for new village leadership in a process that isn’t entirely controlled by the CCP. More importantly, the Wukan model could serve as a useful mechanism for the peaceful resolution of the growing number of disputes between local officials and citizens in rural areas.
Although protests against village officials occurred in several rural villages following the Wukan incident, none successfully appealed for direct elections to replace incumbent village chiefs (as in Wukan). So Wukan appears to be more of an exception rather than the rule thus far. In fact, most uprisings were suppressed by local governments, except for any provincial intervention.
We’ll have to see if word of what happened in Wukan actually makes it out to the rest of China, or if the CCP manages to successfully define Wukan as a small non-event in which the Party defended the rights of the people or some such.