“WK” is for Wukan: Netizens Rebel against Censorship on Weibo

Posted on December 19, 2011


The revolt in the Chinese village Wukan has lasted for a week.  Its main roads blocked by the police, the village is cut off from food and supplies from the outside. However, villagers vow to hold their ground and refuse to talk to the authorities until they release their fellow villager Xue Jinbo’s body and the four other villagers who are under custody. Xue was a representative sent by the villagers to negotiate with the authorities about the issue of land seizure in Wukan. He died in the police’s custody ten days ago, and his death triggered the village’s stand-off with the authorities.

As Wukan’s protest unfolds before the world’s eyes, however, in China, what’s happening there has been blocked from media. Search engines, such as that of Sina’s Weibo, have blocked the terms “Wukan” and “Xue Jinbo” from search results.

But the censorship has not been able to completely block the information from netizens. In the past couple of days, netizens on Weibo have been using the initials of the village “WK” to circumvent censorship and circulate reporting about Wukan’s revolt reported in Taiwan and Hong Kong media. On Weibo, tens of thousands of users showed their solidarity with the Wukan villagers. “Goodnight, people of WK…” a Weibo user writes, “this is another sleepless night for you, but people all over China are sticking together with you…”

Others condemned the government for using militarized forces against villagers’ peaceful protest. “Besieging a village with heavily armed troops, what’s your motive?,” another user writes, criticizing the authorities’ deployment of militarized police force. “Those who are in power can’t pacify people, so they resorted to violence. That is completely incompetent, unintelligent, and shameless, and the end result will be doomed to be condemnable, sad, and despicable. History will remember; the monument of shame is already erected, waiting for your names to be engraved on… Think twice before it’s too late.”

Some netizens are concerned how long the relatively peaceful stand-off can last before a bloody confrontation. “Tonight, they (the authorities) want to copy in WK,” a Weibo user writes, referring, in coded language, 1989’s Tian’anmen Square protest.

Another Weibo user is hopeful for a peaceful resolution. “In my humble personal opinion,” she/he writes, “what’s happening in WK has to be resolved peacefully no matter how difficult it is. Don’t want to see more blood. Let children walk out of this chaos; children shouldn’t share the cruelty of the adults.” She/he continues to express her/his concern for the villagers’ safety and the dangerous prospect facing them if violence breaks out: “People all over the world are supporting their protest, but who are willing to join them to fight against power? Yes, protest is resistance too. But (as outsiders) hail them for fighting against arms, theirs will be the only blood that will be shed.”

Some netizens have gone further to criticize the lack of social justice and democracy in China.”In this country that has no religious belief or a [functioning] justice system, things like this should get every citizen think carefully,”a Weibo user writes, “violence is not an option; China has had too much violence for thousands of years.”

Relating to Beijing government’s issuance of a regulation for weibo‘s (microblogging) identify verification, a Weibo user writes: “Today when I was having lunch with Haibing, and we talked about weibo‘s identity verification law. I said I don’t complain about these things nowadays any more. Haibing said, complaining about economy is fine—even if you turned the world upside down you’ll be fine—but those other things, forget it. Actually, I would be happy to live my life watching roosters fight or walking my dog rather than worrying about the heaven and the earth. But tonight I read so much about WK, and saw hundreds and thousands of villagers protest with tears in their eyes. I can’t allow myself to feel nothing. They’re all people, like you and me! They’re people who have been robbed!”

“About WK, I don’t even know what’s real and what’s rumor. This happened in a China that [claims] to devote itself to building a harmonious society? Unspeakable horror, iron-handed oppression. Respect goes to those who’re not afraid of dictatorship,” another netizen writes.

Wukan’s revolt is an escalation of the conflicts between peasants and the authorities and real estate developers over land seizure seen across China for years. In October, three young AWOL soldiers were shot dead on their way to help another soldier revenge his family whose land had been seized by the authorities by force. The public showed tremendous sympathy to the fallen soldiers. In Wukan’s case, the public clearly stand with the villagers. “Give back the land to its people,” a Weibo user writes. “Who are the masters of this country?” another protests.

A Weibo user points out that land seizure is a tough case for the government to handle: “The local authorities’ unregulated land selling is not unique [in Wukan]. If WK returns the land to the villagers, I’m afraid villagers all over China will request [the authorities] return land to them, and this is what they (the authorities) fear.”

She/he has a point. The fear of the prospect of Wukan’s revolt spreading over China led the government to block the news in the very begging of the protest. The media blackout provoked many netizens on Weibo to criticize Chinese government and the media. “It would be nice if [the government] use the effort they made to block the news somewhere it’s actually needed,” a Weibo user writes.

Another user is concerned about the government’s cover-up: “This time about wk, I don’t know if some wumao (government agents infiltrating online communities who post favorable comments about the government and the Party) will come out and ‘clarify the rumors’… damn it, those wumao, no matter how stupid they are, should have a bottom-line for morality and conscience!”

A user applauds foreign media for their coverage: “WK is getting big. Turned out it’s foreign media that have conscience…” Another criticizes Chinese who haven’t shown their support to Wukan for their apathy: “I couldn’t sleep this morning and reposted a lot of [posts] about wk. In today’s China, some people fled, but some are ready to give their last drop of blood to protect their home… But, most of us are still just onlookers…”

Now it seems that Weibo is still trying to block information under the pressure of the government. Several users mentioned that their posts containing “WK” have disappeared shortly after they posted them. “Posts about WK can’t live for over an hour; why not tell us the truth?,” a user complained.

However, the discussion of Wukan is still alive on the social media site despite the censorship. Perhaps Chinese people are more rebellious than the government thinks we are, like this one, who, before she/he went to bed last night, wrote her/his last post for the day: “Before I go to bed, I’ll post this, risking my account being deleted.” There’s a link to a blog post with photos of protesters and crying villagers and a lengthy report of Wukan’s revolt. “I also want to say,” she/he continued, “WK people, hang in there!”

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