Category Archives: Guangzhou Model

“The Wukan Effect”

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.

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“Time for China to Say Goodbye to the ‘Chongqing Model’?”

WSJ’s China RealTimeReport looks at the Wang Lijun/US embassy affair, and tries to draw wider conclusions about the competing Chongqing and Guangdong models:

It’s noteworthy that Wang Lijun had been putting himself forward in the media as a driving force in correcting society. Perhaps Wang saw himself as a political alternative to Bo should the latter leave for Beijing and his sudden departure was the result of being told that outcome was impossible. Was Wang concerned enough about his own future—at the hands of his political adversaries or the enemies in the underworld he was fighting — that he thought political asylum in the United States offered his best protection against retaliation?

Or did Wang have no intention of fleeing the country in the first place? Was he instead trying to signal others that he had something that threatened to bring down the political temple that Bo has built?

Whatever the case, this is no local issue. There are larger matters at play here—including whether or not the so-called “Chongqing model” of high technology and a hardline for society has now been thrown into question by the leave-taking of someone so crucial to the whole enterprise. How strong is the house if one of the architects now seems to have problems with the design?

Then there’s the ongoing leadership transition in Beijing. With Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao about to step down, much has been made of Bo being a possible candidate for elevation to the Communist Party’s ruling Politburo Standing Committee. This latest development will be a challenge for him to overcome in that quest, given that the last thing the central leadership wants in the run-up to the handover is acrimony in the party ranks. Bo will need to convince others above that he’s capable of ensuring unity in his own backyard before he’s entirely trusted at the high table.

On the flip side, the commotion in Chongqing should help Guangdong leader Wang Yang in his own grab for a spot in the Communist Party’s inner circle. In contrast to Bo, Wang Yang’s political strategy reflects the view of the reformist wing of the Party that hardline policies are ill-suited to satisfying Chinese society. Wang Yang is now well-positioned to make the argument that a less draconian approach to maintaining order helps keep the walls of the Party apparatus from shaking.

Still a lot of conjecture, but interesting nonetheless.

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, Chongqing Model/Bo Xilai, Guangzhou Model

Eyes on the Wukan Election

First, Malcolm Moore files another report:

The first poll took place on Wednesday, in the village school, and, despite a small scuffle at the beginning over access for Hong Kong journalists, unfolded smoothly.

Orderly queues formed as villagers negotiated a complicated three-step voting procedure, designed to lend an air of gravitas to the proceedings.

The vote was to elect an eleven-man committee to organise the main election in March, but for most of the participants it was the symbolism of the event, rather than its purpose, that counted.

“We had to make a big thing, a big show, out of it to underline its importance and to guarantee that it was all fair and transparent,” said Yang Semao, one of the chief organisers.

“Wukan has been in the dark for so many years; its elections always manipulated. It is the first time we have done this so we want to do a good job,” he added. In the past few days, several academics and students have also arrived in Wukan, partly to observe the proceedings, and partly to offer advice to the villagers.

Mr Chen filled in his ballot, a sheet of A4 paper, at a table covered by a bright red tablecloth and deposited it in one of seven shiny aluminium ballot boxes. According to an official press release, he was one of 7688 eligible voters, with 1043 voting by proxy.

Another voter, 32-year-old Wang Huibing, said he hoped the new village administration would pay him the disability benefit that he has never yet been able to claim and would improve the village’s medical facilities. “We do not ask for much, and I am not sure what the outcome of this election will be, but I suppose it will be more fair and open.”

The oddly-named 818Hi has a report about Chinese reactions to the Wukan elections. I’m curious about how the Communist Party intends to allow Wukan to hold real elections, while still meddling with every single local election in the entire country in the future:

“This is a model,” Chinese real-estate mogul Ren Zhiqiang said Wednesday via the popular microblogging service Sina Weibo, where searches for Wukan were producing nearly a million posts.

“The start of something new,” observed another user of the service.

For many, the election brought to mind one of Mao Zedong’s favorite revolutionary slogans/sayings: “If you want freedom and democracy, you have to fight for it yourself,” wrote one Internet user in the popular discussion forum Maoyan Kanren. “A single spark can start a prairie fire.”

Others saw in the elections a rebuke of people, like martial-arts star Jackie Chan, who’ve questioned whether Chinese culture is compatible with democratic government.

“After this, whoever says Chinese people aren’t good enough for democracy, I’ll sue the bastard,” one particularly excited blogger promised on Sina Weibo.

Not everyone saw the election as the harbinger of a democratic China. Some dismissed it as a show, saying Wukan’s election, like elections in other villages, would be bought. Others tried to temper expectations.

“This is an election supported by detailed regulations in the constitution of the People’s Republic of China,” Yang Hua, a fire control engineer from Shandong province, wrote on his Weibo feed. “It’s not new and it doesn’t count as reform, but it is a symbol of the implementation of the constitution.”

Still others found time to poke fun at makeshift quality of the vote. “That’s unique,” one Weibo user wrote in response to a photo of several people crammed into a single pink voting booth. “Are they a family?”

Still, the mood among those who took the time to comment was overwhelmingly optimistic.

“History always moves forward. This is something no one can change,” read one post in the Maoyan Kanren forum. “Congratulations to the people of Wukan!”

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Filed under democracy, Guangzhou Model

“Rebel Chinese village prepares to hold extraordinary elections”

Could this possibly be a happy ending for the Wukan saga? There will be a lot of eyes watching, and Malcolm Moore is there to file reports:

On Wednesday, it will hold what the villagers believe is China’s first wholly transparent, completely open, democratic election, in which any one of Wukan’s 10,000 registered residents can run for office.

At the local school, seven desks have been arranged on the basketball court, a shiny aluminium ballot box behind each one. On Tuesday, villagers collected their voting slips from the village’s government headquarters, and scrutinised candidate lists pasted on the walls.

As the sun shone, a carnival spirit was in the air, as villagers let off firecrackers and beat drums.

“We have seen a flame of democracy here and we have seen other places follow suit, in a domino effect. Other villages are learning from us. So we have to make sure that all the elections are open and fair,” said Mr Zhang.

The glee in the village over the vote did not seem to be shared by a group of local Communist party officials who arrived from Lufeng, which administers Wukan.

Pulling up in black limousines, their number plates covered, they scowled at journalists and held a summit with Lin Zuluan, the protest leader who has become the local Party secretary, in order to “clarify some guidelines”.

“I’m pleased we are having an election, but this is for the very lowest level of government and they will not be able to resolve our problems,” said Xue Jianwan, his 21-year-old daughter. “Even if we hired lawyers, we have only a dim hope. The government still holds all the cards.”

Miss Xue said her extended family had been put under pressure by the government to sign forms saying that her father had died from natural causes, something they strongly dispute. The local government has said it will not release Mr Xue’s body for fear of stirring another protest.

In addition, there is still no sign of any resolution about the land that the village says was illegally seized, the root of its complaint.

“There is still an arduous journey ahead of us,” said Mr Zhang. “We succeeded, where tens of thousands of other villages have failed, because we were so strongly united, and there was no division between us. We had a clear target. I hope, going forward, the villagers do not think too much about their small, private, interests, but keep thinking about our long term gain.”

There’ll definitely be more about this as the elections proceed.

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“The Grim Future of the Wukan Model for Managing Dissent”

Willy Lam has a new article up looking at Wukan- it’s a good summary of what the ‘wukan model’ really means:

Many questions however have been raised about the Wukan incident. Has justice been done to the villagers? What lies behind the Guangdong authorities’ decision not to use force against Wukan’s singular act of defiance? More importantly, is there a consensus within the CCP’s top echelon that the conciliatory approach represented by the so-called Wukan model will be adopted for future cases of confrontation between disaffected social elements and the authorities? Given that some 65 percent of China’s “mass incidents” are due to misappropriation of land, has the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) administration come up with effective measures to curb the malpractice?

Does the Wukan case indeed mean that central- and local-level officials will henceforward lean toward relatively conciliatory and non-violent means to tackle protests by peasants and other disaffected elements in society? At least on the surface, Wang Yang’s handling of Wukan has won the support of the state media. The People’s Daily hailed Guangzhou’s efforts as an example of “accommodating and defusing contradictions and conflicts in a good way.” It praised Guangdong leaders for “grasping well the aspirations of the masses.” The commentary noted whether officials could satisfactorily resolve questions regarding the masses’ malcontents was a “yardstick of cadres’ ties with the people as well as their leadership ability.” The Global Times praised Guangdong leaders for “putting the interests of the public in the first place when handling land disputes” (People’s Daily, December 22, 2011; Global Times [Beijing], December 22, 2011; Bloomberg, December 22, 2011). The Wukan model also won plaudits from members of the remnant liberal wing of the party, a reference to the followers of radical, pro-West modernizers represented by the late party secretaries Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang. “I hope that the Wukan incident can push society to establish a system which is based on democracy and the rule of law,” said Hu Deping, the respected son of Hu Yaobang, “I hope that when we are faced with similar problems in the future, we can resort to the rule of law and negotiation” (South China Morning Post, December 30, 2011; Sina.com, December 30, 2011).

However, it is important to note that Zhou and other members of the ruling elite have not given up the CCP authorities’ time-tested strategy of tackling dissent: to switch between soft and tough tactics in accordance with the requirement of different circumstances. In the CPLAC conference, Zhou made reference to having “planned and implemented various types of operations to ensure stability and to counter emergencies, which have succeeded in safeguarding national security and social stability.” Apart from cracking down hard on subversive and “anti-state” elements in Tibet and Xinjiang, law enforcement units have pulled out all the stops to muzzle and even imprison dissidents, including NGO activists and human-rights lawyers who have represented disenfranchised urban and rural residents in hundreds of land-grab cases nationwide (Ming Pao, December 27, 2011; Human Rights Watch [New York], December 26, 2011).

At least in theory, there are enough statutes on the law books that forbid cadres and developers from forcing urbanites and peasants to leave their properties and land without the payment of adequate compensation. However, land and related transactions account for at least half of the revenues of regional administrations. In 2010, for instance, local governments raked in about 2.9 trillion yuan ($460 billion) worth of income from land sales. Unfortunately, most local administrations are heavily in debt partly due to misguided investments in infrastructure and property-related ventures. Especially after the global financial crisis broke out in late 2008, sub-national cadres are anxious to embark on infrastructure and other job-creation programs both to provide employment and to jack up the GDP expansion rate. Satisfactory economic growth is seen as indispensable for officials’ promotion prospects given the importance that GDP statistics figure in the assessment procedures of the Chinese cadre system. In mid-2011, the State Auditing Administration estimated local governments, together with government-related urban development investment vehicles, had run up debts totaling 10.72 trillion yuan ($1.7 trillion). Western credit agencies reckoned that the figure could be as high as 14 trillion yuan ($2.2 trillion). ( “Local Debt Problems Highlight Weak Links in China’s Economic Model,” China Brief, July 15, 2011)

Since income from land sales are a principal means for local governments to service their debts as well as pay the salaries of civil servants, Beijing is prone to turn a blind eye to their property-related deals (Apple Daily, December 29, 2011; Wall Street Journal, December 15, 2011). In light of central authorities’ anxiety to uphold socio-political stability, it also is not difficult for regional cadres to justify their employment of police and PAP officers to quell protests of whatever nature. Unless, as Hu Deping pointed out, the CCP leadership is ready to uphold rule of law—and allow activist lawyers to defend the rights of the victims of land grab and official corruption—deep-seated social contradictions will remain despite a couple of cases of the apparently fair and transparent resolution of “mass incidents.”

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“Chinese police besiege town and cut of food supplies in bid to quell riots”

Sounds like things are still getting worse, not better, in Wukan. Malcolm Moore has… more:

The latest protests began on Sunday, when police attempting to arrest a villager were repelled by villagers armed with sticks. The police fired tear gas before retreating.

At the same time, the local government brought the village’s simmering anger to a boil by admitting that Xue Jinbo, a 43-year-old butcher who had represented the villagers in their negotiations with the government, had died in police custody of “cardiac failure”.

Mr Xue was taken into custody last week and accused of inciting riots. Mr Xue was widely believed to have been tortured, perhaps to death, and his family were rumoured to have found several of his bones broken when receiving his corpse.

On Monday, around 6,000 people attended Mr Xue’s funeral and photographs of the massed crowds paying their respects circulated on the Chinese internet. “We’re very pained and angry at his death,” said one villager who declined to be named. “He didn’t commit any crime. He was just a negotiator speaking with the government, trying to get our land back. He was defending farmers’ rights.”

Meanwhile, more photographs showed thousands of Chinese police massing on the roads surrounding Wukan and villagers said that a blockade had been imposed. Villagers using the internet inside the cordon claimed that supplies of food, including rice were running low. “A lot of policemen are assembled outside the village,” wrote one villager on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, who named himself as Charles Suen.

If the Guangdong Model is a serious alternative, now would be a good time to prove it…

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“Death in custody follows fresh unrest in Chinese village”

All the talk about the Guangdong Model doesn’t really add up to much when you have stuff like this still happening:

A Chinese man accused of participating in a riot over land claims in September died in police custody on Sunday, threatening to fan tensions in a far southern region that has become a source of persistent unrest.

The death in Guangdong province occurred as masses of riot police moved to quell a longstanding dispute in Wukan village on the east coast of the booming province, where industrial development has consumed swathes of rice paddies.

The government of Shanwei, an area that includes Wukan village in its jurisdiction, said in the early hours of Monday that Xue Jinbo fell ill on Sunday, his third day in detention over the riot. Hospital doctors later pronounced the man dead despite frantic efforts to save his life.

Pictures on microblogging sites from Wukan village showed large numbers of riot police standing off with residents who are demanding the return of farmland to restore their livelihoods.

Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper and two villagers contacted by Reuters said police had used tear gas and blocked all roads to the village.

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Filed under Guangzhou Model, migrant workers, protests

“The Guangdong model”

The Economist has the latest article to describe the Guangdong Model, which seems to be only slightly different in practice than typical Chinese governance. Perhaps its a sign of the times that such small changes attract so much attention:

Perhaps the debate generates more heat in public than it does in the Communist Party itself. A researcher at Guangdong’s party school says Guangdong and Chongqing are not in opposition. Both regions, he says, are learning from each other. For example, Chongqing is building the development zones to attract investors that Guangdong pioneered in the 1980s. Guangdong, he says, could learn from Chongqing’s efforts to absorb migrants from the countryside into city life. Guangdong academics have studied Chongqing’s experiments in creating markets for rural land, where powerful restrictions apply even in “liberal” Guangdong.

In the political realm, however, Mr Wang’s supporters point to changes which, they say, are distinctive. One concerns the role of trade unions, a rather sensitive area for a party that is still unnerved by the role that Solidarity played in Poland in the 1980s to bring down Communist power.

Mr Wang’s rethink was triggered by a spate of 200-odd strikes last year in the Pearl River delta that began in May with workers downing tools at a Honda car-parts factory in Foshan, near Guangzhou. Mr Wang, says an academic, chose not to see the strikes as a threat to political stability. Indeed he expressed sympathy with the workers’ demands (which is perhaps easier to do at companies owned by foreigners). Elsewhere in China ringleaders are commonly rounded up once strikes have been settled, but those in Guangdong were not. All the incidents, the academic says, had “happy endings”, with pay increases of 30-40%.

Buying off strikers is common enough in China. But Mr Wang went further, encouraging state-affiliated trade unions (there are no independent ones) to be more active in representing workers’ interests. Trade unions in China are normally little more than creatures of management, run by party cadres. Prodded by Mr Wang, Guangdong’s unions began encouraging collective bargaining, a practice officially authorised but widely disliked by local officials who fear worker activism and upward wage pressures. Mr Wang’s views did not strike an instant chord with his subordinates. Most participants at one meeting on how to handle the strikes “didn’t get it” when he called for a hands-off approach, says someone with knowledge of the proceedings.

Supporters of the Guangdong model also point to the greater leeway Mr Wang has given NGOs, which are heavily circumscribed in China. Their registration in Guangdong, and especially in Shenzhen, a trailblazing economic zone bordering Hong Kong, involves fewer hoops. Mr Wang has been credited with promoting more open access to information about government spending. In 2009 Guangzhou became the first Chinese city to publish all its budgets.

Protests, sometimes violent, are common. In Dadun village, on the edge of one of Guangzhou’s satellite towns, a notice outside the government headquarters promises rewards of up to 10,000 yuan ($1,600) for turning in “criminals” involved in large riots in June triggered by security guards roughing up a street hawker. The rioters were migrants who work in countless small jeans factories, one even in a temple courtyard, trimming threads and stamping on studs.

Nor does the Guangdong model extend to free and fair elections. In September Dadun held a ballot for seats in the local legislature. But only its fewer than 7,000 Cantonese inhabitants were allowed to vote, and not the 60,000-odd sweatshop labourers from other provinces. In a village near Foshan, residents elected an independent candidate, ie one who did not have party backing. Plainclothes goons now keep watch on his home. A villager confides her support for the new legislator only in a hushed tone.

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“Political rivalry reflects a split within China’s Communist Party”

A good piece from the Globe and Mail about the ongoing Chongqing/Guangzhou split:

“For a mature ruling political party, it’s more important to study and review its history and strengthen a sense of anxiety than just to sing the praises of its brilliance,” Guangdong’s Party chief, Wang Yang said in remarks that were published in the official People’s Daily newspaper.

By Western standards, that was a very subtle poke at Bo Xilai, the singing boss of Chongqing. But in the murky world of Chinese leadership politics, Mr. Wang’s jab was rare for its directness. Here was one top Party official taking public aim at another’s leadership style, on a day that was supposed to be set aside for celebrating the Party’s successes.

The remark drew back the curtain a hair’s breadth on a behind-the-scenes rivalry that could shape the direction the world’s rising superpower will take in the coming decade.

Mr. Bo and Mr. Wang are not only provincial Party bosses, but rivals for coveted spots on the nine-man Standing Committee of the Politburo – the top of China’s power pyramid – during the once-in-a-decade leadership shuffle set to take place over the next year.

Since Mr. Bo took over as Party Secretary in Chongqing four years ago, he has won wide praise for smashing the region’s crime syndicates. But he is even more notorious for his nostalgic embrace of “Red culture” – which includes not only revolutionary songs but bureaucrats being sent to the countryside to work alongside farmers, and Mao quotations being sent to millions of mobile phones by Mr. Bo himself.

Mr. Bo’s campaigns have made him a hero of the country’s “new left” but also unnerved some prominent intellectuals, who hear unsettling echoes of the Cultural Revolution, when tens of millions were violently purged in the name of ideological purity.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wang – who preceded Mr. Bo as Chongqing party boss before moving east to Guangdong – has recently emerged as the new hope of the country’s liberals.

Guangdong, particularly the cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou, famously gave birth to China’s economic reforms in the 1980s and 1990s. Now the region is home to the country’s freest media and has become an incubator for civil society.

“Bo’s approach is a populist approach based on appealing to the masses with historical nostalgia,” said Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing-based analyst of Chinese politics. “Wang’s efforts are no less populist, but they rest upon the notion that the Party’s legitimacy will have to rest on more than simply economic growth.”

Some Chinese see the coming battle as critical to whether their country continues its lurching reform, or takes a dangerous step backward. “Chongqing is on the way to becoming North Korea. Guangdong is on the way to becoming Singapore,” said Yu Chen, an investigative journalist at the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily, widely considered one of the country’s most independent newspapers.

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, Guangzhou Model, Maoism

“China’s political winds shift”

Let’s be careful with that headline- the political winds of Guangzhou province are shifting, not those of China as a whole. Still, following a string of good news and a lot of potential from the Party leadership in Guangzhou, it’s nice to hear that the ‘Guangzhou model’ is even a thing that can be mentioned in the same sentence as the hard-line alternative the others are pushing these days. From Sydney Morning Herald:

THE leader of China’s most populous province is cautiously promoting a more democratic model against the country’s prevailing political winds.

The affirmation by Guangdong party chief Wang Yang of a more liberal ”Guangdong model” goes some way to answering a plea by many intellectuals for an ideological and practical alternative to the state-centric ”Chongqing model” that has been aggressively pushed by that city’s party chief, Bo Xilai.

Mr Wang juxtaposed his political preferences with those of Mr Bo but played down what is reputed to be a deepening rivalry between the pair ahead of next year’s crucial 18th party congress.

Last month, several of China’s most important intellectuals met in the hills west of Beijing to debate the merits of the two models.

Zhang Musheng, a magazine editor closely linked China’s key ”princeling” politicians, and whose own father served as secretary to premier Zhou Enlai, strongly endorsed Mr Bo’s Chongqing model for injecting new relevance into the Communist Party.

Li Shengping, an adviser to Hu Deping, who is the son of China’s liberal former party boss, Hu Yaobang, strongly sided with the ”democratic” traditions of Guangdong.

Mr Li said Guangdong province had a distinctively democratic lineage that could be traced from former leaders Marshall Ye Jianying and Xi Zhongxun – the father of China’s likely future president Xi Jinping – to the current Party chief Wang Yang.

Other participants, such as Southern Weekly columnist Xiao Xhu, welcomed regional competition rather than the merits of any particular model.

”To be frank, in the past 10 years it has become more and more clear that the regime has ‘rulers’ but no ‘governance’, it has almighty rulers but is totally incapable of governing,” said Mr Li.

”So both [Guangdong and Chongqing] are experiments to find solutions to failed governance,” he said.

Mr Wang is seen as a factional ally of Mr Hu. In the past two years he has toned down his relatively liberal rhetoric as more conservative state-centric policies and ideologies have prevailed.

But in recent months he has spoken out more freely and claims to be putting some of his ideas into practice.

Bo Xilai, of Chongqing model fame, is likely to be a big winner in the leadership swap next year. Hopefully he won’t see it as a rivalry, or else we might see the Guangzhou model scuttled before it even has a chance to prove itself.

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, Communist Party, Guangzhou Model