Some notes from Wukan, but read this dispatch I filed yesterday first:


We got lucky getting into Wukan. The first stroke of luck was renting a car in Shenzhen with blacked-out windows so no one could see me inside. The second stroke of luck was that, as we approached the police roadblock some three miles outside the village, we fell in behind a car with government plates.

The police, their machine guns hanging at their waists, waved us through. Our photographer, travelling a few hours behind us in a taxi, was not so lucky. He was stopped and escorted the three hours back to Shenzhen.

After we passed through the police roadblock we came to a second barrier, of trees piled across the road. Around a dozen young men were mulling around, and we were not sure, from a distance, whether they might be plain clothes policemen. We parked about a hundred feet from them, took a deep breath, and stepped out of the car to have a chat.

As we got closer though, it was clear they were villagers. They told us they had erected their own barrier in case the government tried to sneak into the village at night. Three of them heaved aside some trees at the side and let us through.

In any other country it would be hard to describe Wukan (pop 20,000) as a village. It is a sprawling, built-up mass of three storey houses, with schools and government buildings lining the main street.

Inside there are now no police, or government officials. It is the first time I've been anywhere without police in the almost four years I've been in China and it didn't just feel liberating to me - the villagers are exuberant. There's a constant buzz of excitement in the air, as young men run around, using walkie talkies to organise the resistance. Unlike many villages in the countryside, Wukan is also full of children, who seem to be enjoying the upheaval and sudden distraction of their parents.

Of course, it cannot last. When I asked how long they expected to hold out for, and what would happen next, eyes dropped to the ground and the standard Chinese response of "it's not clear", came back.

But the government will not find it easy to reestablish control. For the past two days, huge crowds have gather outside the village hall, chanting together for hours, willing themselves into ever greater displays of collective emotion.

To my eyes a lot of the wailing and sobbing seemed theatric, but I guess it must be a filial and social obligation for the mourners to display as much emotion as they can summon. And there is no doubt it has a strong unifying effect on the villagers, who feel that they are all in their predicament together.

It is worth noting that the Shanwei area, where Wukan lies, has some form when it comes to rebellion. Very poor, and on the coast, smugglers have operated in Shanwei since Chinese history began. The area is notorious for being controlled by triads and for its high rate of heroin addiction.

On the motorway, taxis are sometimes hijacked by motorcycle gangs, my driver said, who is from the neighbouring town of Haifeng. And in the days before Deng Xiaoping ordered a clean-up, it was said that the smugglers of Shanwei had a better collection of guns than the army, weapons they have used in the past to attack the police.

But I've seen little sinister in Wukan since I got here yesterday afternoon. While the resistance is organised, there is no sign of any criminal element. Children swarm through the town during the day, and families retreat to their courtyard homes at night.

Now it is just a question of waiting to see what happens next.
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