HAIMEN, Guangdong Province—It wouldn’t have been fair or accurate to call it a China Spring, but for a moment it was worth wondering: Was this the beginning of a Guangdong Spring?
Since September, residents in a fishing village called Wukan, in the southern coastal province of Guangdong, had been protesting against their local government over, specifically, illegal land grabs and, more generally, corruption. This was a town where one man had held sway as the Communist Party chief for four decades.
The situation grew explosive two weekends ago when one of the protest organizers died in police custody, triggering a widespread and cohesive revolt that saw thousands of people run the local officials and police out of town—the first time the Communist Party appeared to have lost total control.
The authorities responded by laying siege on Wukan, preventing food and other supplies from reaching the 20,000-strong population, and censoring all mention of the latest developments in Chinese media or the Internet. In turn, the residents welcomed foreign and Hong Kong journalists to cover their plight.
Negotiations between the two sides kicked into high gear even as the situation escalated. The villagers threatened to march to government offices of a nearby town unless their demands were met, potentially pitting them against thousands of riot and paramilitary police deployed along the main road leading in and out of Wukan.
In the end, cooler tempers prevailed amidst government compromises, but just as the Wukan standoff appeared to ease, reports of more protests nearby surfaced on Tuesday on the Internet. (...)
At least three other pockets of unrest had flared up in districts of a large city near Wukan: two of the groups were protesting similar examples of illegal land seizures and a third—the largest outbreak of demonstrations—was over government plans to build a coal-fired power plant in Haimen. (...)
Protests are not unusual in China. In fact, according to the most recent official statistics, 2009 saw more than 90,000 “mass incidents,” as the Chinese government calls protests, across the country. Land grabs and pollution concerns are among the top grievances.
Although the protests in Wukan and Haimen appear unrelated, it seemed a remarkable coincidence that two demonstrations adopting similar tactics would spring up all within several dozen miles of one another.