China’s Communist Party has for the first time on record, one reporter says, “lost all control.” In what is the culmination of months of unrest over a planned land seizure in Wukan, party officials have been completely ejected from the southern fishing village.
“The last of Wukan’s dozen party officials fled on Monday after thousands of people blocked armed police from retaking the village, standing firm against tear gas and water cannons,” The Telegraph reported.
“Since then, the police have retreated to a roadblock, some three miles away, in order to prevent food and water from entering, and villagers from leaving. Wukan’s fishing fleet, its main source of income, has also been stopped from leaving harbor.”
The open revolt reportedly broke out after local officials announced that one of the leaders of the protest against the land grab had died in police custody. The Wall Street Journal reports that villagers have established their own roadblocks, “and are guarding entrances to prevent security forces from detaining any more residents or re-establishing government control over the area, according to the locals.”
According to the latest reports, officials are now holding the village to ransom. “[O]fficials have ratcheted up pressure on the rebel village…by allegedly ransoming four men who were seized from the village last week,” The Telegraph says.
Kelley Currie, a China specialist at the Project 2049 Institute, told The Diplomat such incidents highlight the fact that the authorities’ control is often more superficial and tenuous than it appears.
“The party-state has become so reliant on enforcing a kind of ‘rigid’ stability that involves buying off anyone who can be bought off with economic goods, and crushing those who can’t,” she says.
“Increasingly, however, the costs of buying people off are getting out of reach of local municipalities and they are finding that no matter how many police they have, it’s not enough when the whole town decides to stand up against the authorities or when the wholly inappropriate, unnecessary abuse of some citizen gets broadcast via social media.”
Currie says that political reform is the only way out of the “hole that the present system has dug for itself,” but she argues that until now at least the Communist leadership at all levels has shown little appreciation for this.
“I sense they continue to believe they can manage their way out of this present period, but their materialistic worldview discounts the degree to which Communist rule in China has created a terribly low-trust society and the ramifications of this for trying to manage change or crisis,” she says. “Eventually the governance short cuts that successive generations of China’s leadership have taken will catch up to them. That day seems to be getting closer all the time.”