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China's real rise – in Wukan's village election

Chinese residents in the coast village of Wukan rebelled last year and won the right to a free election. The rest of China watches to see if they, too, can demand democracy.

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Lin Zuluan, who led protests in the Chinese village of Wukan, is followed by the media Dec. 21. He was named the new head of the village on Jan, 15 by provincial leaders in a concession to the protesters.

David Gray/Reuters

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China’s leaders claim their country is simply too big, too unique, and far too prone to chaos for them to allow democracy. Yet on Wednesday, a surprisingly free election takes place in Wukan, a coastal village of 15,000. It has caught the eye of many freedom-hungry Chinese.

The village election in Guangdong Province gives some hope that the world’s most populous nation might yet defy the Communist Party’s stereotype of the Chinese as unprepared to self-govern. This could be a Tunisian moment for the Middle Kingdom.

Wukan is just one of thousands of places in China where residents have recently rebelled against local injustices – the corruption, violence, and land grabs of party officials and their business cronies. Most revolts are either suppressed or quietly resolved. Few of them end up making a link between China’s rising injustices and its lack of democracy and independent judiciary.

But not in Wukan. Residents there took over the village for 10 days late last year because of official graft and the killing of a local man by police. They expelled party leaders and security forces from the village.

Instead of suppressing the protest, however, the province’s reform-minded party leader, Wang Yang, made a surprising concession. He allowed the chief rebel, Lin Zuluan, to assume power and arrange a popular vote. Wednesday’s election sets up a committee to supervise an election of village representatives. Volunteers have been going door-to-door to solicit votes.

“The public’s awareness of democracy, equality, and rights is constantly strengthening, and their corresponding demands are growing,” said deputy provincial party secretary Zhu Mingguo. He and his boss say they expect Wukan to be a template for elections throughout the province.

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