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Wukan among villages facing complicated times

Wukan, a small village in Guangdong Province that drew worldwide attention in 2011 and 2012 for its struggle to overthrow officials believed to have been involved in corruption and elected its own leaders, recently made media headlines again.

Reports said that the democratically elected new village committee has also been encountering troubles, as the villagers complained that they hadn't gained any tangible benefits since the elections. Some officials chose to quit.

Some said this represents a failure of democracy in Wukan. This is as naïve and irresponsible as the comments of those who cheered for the "success of Wukan democracy" in the wake of Wukan election.

The Wukan issue was a struggle for land and financial interests from the beginning. It was promoted as a fight for democracy and later became an effort by local residents to maximize their financial benefits.

Elections can not fix Wukan's problems. Similarly, the current difficulties have nothing to do with the "success" or "failure" of democracy.

China's land and property has seen massive hikes in market values in recent years. Many disputes over land and property have even made family members enemies. It is no surprise to see such hostility spread to villagers and officials. But elections are not a panacea. They do not automatically bring a perfect redistribution mechanism that pleases everybody.

Public opinion, whipped up by the Internet, shows a tendency to relate all kinds of problems to the "absence of free elections." As long as the political system becomes closer to the West's, the problems seen in Myanmar or Egypt can't grab attention compared to the shine of "democracy."

These ideas are not realistic. Mighty but empty slogans are powerful when rallying public sentiment, but not necessarily useful in dealing with specific problems in reality.

Democratic elections are not unique to Wukan. They have been widely practiced in the countryside across China. What is needed next is to raise the quality of these elections. The troubles surrounding Wukan's recent election is no reason to oppose elections themselves. Actually, grass-roots elections need to be further promoted.

After all, the ongoing troubles in Wukan remind us that grass-roots democracy is a good thing, but not omnipotent. It's true that China must move forward with democratic experiments. It is part of the reform of China, but it is not the only means to change everything in this country.

We should avoid simplifying complex issues in a country as big as China. This kind of simplification could lead to outbursts of anger and intolerance.

Wukan will be put into history books as an outstanding example, but the description may be different than any current commentary, which mostly, is too simplistic.


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