Wukan in the Newspapers

         It is interesting to be asked by several seven or eight years’ old kids in Wukan while you are walking on the street with a SLR camera dangling in front of your chest and a backpack – obviously a foreigner – “are you a journalist?” I always disappoint them by answering “sorry, I am just a college student.” I have no idea what motivates these kids to ask every stranger in the village the same question, but one possible answer is that they want to collect my business card, if I have one. I accidentally learnt that many young people in Wukan play a new game of competing who collects most business cards from journalists.


         Probably in China’s history, never has a village been visited by so many journalists. By a glance at the “collections” that one young villager showed to me, I found journalists from the U.S, the UK, France, Japan and Hong Kong. There are just a few Chinese journalists but many so called “non-governmental intellectuals” who are famous for their articles or comments on the Internet. At that time when journalists were not welcomed by the officials to the village, villagers invite journalists to stay in their home. I was told that nearly all foreign journalists stayed in a three-floor house belonged to a three-people family; this house was later called the “press center.” Chinese journalists and intellectual mainly stayed in the third floor of the later new village chief’s house, just next to the “press center.” According to some villagers, these two “blocks” of journalists did not communicate very often. Now that the event has ended for more than four months, how foreign and Chinese media report differently about Wukan?


            Searching through “google” and swem’s archives on “Wukan,” I found about forty articles that focus on Wukan. Nearly twenty of them come from UK’s Financial Times. FT’s journals covered the events from the beginning of the Wukan protest in September 2011 to the votes in April 2012. FT gives more details about what’s going on in Wukan than any other English newspapers. FT’s comments on Wukan mainly state the following points: Wukan offers a democratic model for China; Chinese Communist Party’s felt that their governance was challenged; Wukan represents liberal side’s victory in the power struggle in CCP. In addition, one of FT’s journals released in June 2012 comments on the democratic activism shown by Chinese not only in Wukan but many other places in China, which is a very interesting one because it uses Wukan to reflect on the reality in China. I also find one or two articles in Economist, Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Foreign Policy. Because of the limit of length, their contents do not go much beyond “the crisis of CCP’s governance” and “Wukan people’s unyielding spirit against injustice.”


           Compared with foreign media, Chinese journalists have been more “restrained” from revealing the corruptions under the table and criticizing the current way of governance. Most of them treat Wukan as one of the many “social problems.” As Sun Liping, a professor of the Sociology Department of Tsinghua University, states in his article on Wukan, “Wukan helps the Chinese government find a new way of resolving social problems.” According to my feeling, “democracy” is less used in Chinese journals but other words such as “fairness”, “transparency” and “equality” are used because they are the goals; democracy is more a tool than a goal. Another place that Chinese journalists must do better than their foreign counterparts is that they understand the rural characteristics and traditions. This helps them write articles that are more analytic and deeper. For example, few foreign newspapers write on Wukan’s clan or religion but in fact both of them play very important roles in the protest and elections. Usually, Chinese journalists will not miss this point.


          To conclude, foreign journalists provide a general picture of what Wukan means for China, as a nation, in the future. Chinese journalists offer analysis from many angles but refrain from talking a big picture. After all, few Chinese believe Wukan will bring a radical political change to China but meanwhile, many Chinese believe Wukan is important to foster some smaller changes in China. It should be conceded that most foreign articles about Wukan are not academic journals or are not written by academics, and therefore they cannot be too specific, which is understandable. “Crisis in China” is always what catches people’s eyeballs.

Articles on FT.com:

Wukan offers democratic model for China

Wukan challenges party line on democracy

Where Wukan has led, Beijing will not follow