Special series

Wukan: After the Uprising

After ousting its corrupt leadership, one Chinese village grapples with the challenges of democracy.

Last Modified: 26 Jul 2013 08:30
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China is no stranger to rural uprisings. Tens of thousands of protests erupt across the country each year, many over the illegal sale of communal village land by corrupt local officials. Few demonstrations lead to real change, but in 2011, one community defied the odds.

Wukan, a village in China’s southern Guangdong province, captured the world’s attention when it achieved a rare victory.

After weeks of noisy protests, a crackdown by local authorities and the death of a leading activist, demonstrators succeeded in ousting the village committee, which had held power for more than four decades. Democratic elections were announced and Wukan made international headlines.

Wukan: After the Uprising tells the story of the village’s journey following its extraordinary victory. This four-part observational documentary series looks at the challenges of a community’s transition to democracy, through the eyes of former rebels now entrusted with the task of leading the village and regaining lost land.  

As the international press left Wukan after its historic vote, Al Jazeera stayed on to follow the newly elected village committee in action. Over the course of more than a year, filmmakers Lynn Lee and James Leong documented Wukan’s unique experience with democracy.

From the high of the elections, to the grind of everyday work, to the dilemmas of leadership, this is a rare and intimate portrait of rural China in the midst of remarkable change.

Episode 1: Rebels to Politicians


In China's village of Wukan, an unprecedented election is underway. Wukan hit international news headlines in late 2011 when villagers protested against illegal land grabs by corrupt local officials. The uprising ended with promises of a free and fair election plus the return of Wukan’s land.

Jiancheng, 27, who was arrested during the uprising, now stands as a popular candidate for the election. Lin Zuluan, 68, is another former rebel leader who stands as the primary candidate for village chief. Jiancheng’s younger brother, Jianxing, is the citizen journalist who kept the world informed of the uprising and is now covering the election as it unfolds.

We follow these characters through the days of this extraordinary vote to discover that nothing is straightforward when it comes to democracy. Even on voting day, Jiancheng has to deal with an unexpected event. From the vote to the first meeting of the newly elected village committee, watch the former rebel leaders become politicians as an extraordinary experiment with democracy in China begins.

Rebels to Politicians can be seen from July 4, 2013.

Episode 2: Democracy is complicated


Three months after the elections, village committee Chief Lin Zuluan makes headway with their plans to reclaim the land and new committee member, Jiancheng, is busy dealing with the mundane infrastructure problems of leaking pipes and rubbish disposal. Despite the promising start for the committee, things soon turn sour.

Jianxing discovers a conspiracy against the newly elected chief, and the villagers are impatient for the return of their land. Six months after the election the committee members are losing faith in democracy. On the anniversary of the 2011 uprising the villagers descend upon their newly elected committee and hold a shambolic protest demanding their land back. Committee members try to defend their positions but the chief is left furious.

Democracy is complicated can be seen from July 11, 2013.

Episode 3: Fractures


With the village divided after the latest protests, committee members Jiancheng and Suzhuan try valiantly to continue their work for the unhappy villagers. For one committee member, Zhuang Liehong, life as an official is not what he expected and, in a surprise move, he resigns from the village committee.

The chief is struggling and refuses to accept visitors as he works from home. In an attempt to bring the village together the resigned committee member Zhuang Liehong and village chronicler Jianxing Zhang hold a memorial for Xue Jinbo who died in police custody during the uprising. The event is not sanctioned by the village committee and the divide in Wukan deepens.

Fractures  can be seen from July 18, 2013.

Episode 4: The Full Circle


The final episode starts with Chinese New Year celebrations and hopes for a fresh beginning in Wukan. It is not long before another committee member resigns in frustration. The chief refuses to give up on the village and democracy when he discovers some extraordinary news about the borders of Wukan and the stolen land.

One year after the election, the first piece of land is returned but when villagers arrive to inspect the land, their joy quickly turns to anger. Roadblocks, a police stand off and protests against the village committee bring the series, and this first year of democracy in a Chinese village, to a fiery end. 

The Full Circle  can be seen from July 25, 2013.

Key Characters

  • Lin Zuluan , a 68-year-old, retired Communist Party cadre, emerged as the leader of the uprising in 2011 and is the primary candidate for the new chief of Wukan’s Village Committee.  
  • Jiancheng Zhang , 27-years-old, was arrested with three others at the height of the protests in 2011. Inspired into action following the death of his friend, Xue Jinbo, who died mysteriously in police custody, Jiancheng stands as a candidate for the Village Committee.
  • Jianxing Zhang , 21-years-old, is Jiancheng’s younger brother and the village chronicler. Throughout the uprising and the first year of the new village committee, Jianxing uses social media to keep the world informed of developments in Wukan.

Other former activists standing for election who feature in the series include Zhuang Liehong, Chen Suzhuan and Yang Semao.

In Pictures

Wukan: After the Uprising can be seen each week at the following times GMT: T hursday:0130; Friday:0930; Saturday:0330; Sunday:1630 



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