RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
In China, one Southern fishing village stands out from all the others. Back in 2012, villagers dared to oust their Communist Party leaders. They elected one of their own and were allowed to do that. Now as NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing, authorities have apparently decided to quash what the communist government sees as some kind of ongoing uprising.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: In the village of Wukan in southern Guangdong province, riot police hold up their shields and retreat under a hail of stones and bricks hurled at them by angry villagers. Police fire rubber bullets and tear gas at the villagers. This is one of many videos residents uploaded to social media whose authenticity can't be independently confirmed. What officials do confirm is that in the early hours of Tuesday morning, police went into the village and arrested 13 locals.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Foreign language spoken).
KUHN: State TV quotes a police statement accusing the 13 of organizing illegal gatherings, spreading rumors and other offenses, but one Wukan resident disputes this. She fears arrest and asked that we only used her surname Chen.
CHEN: (Through interpreter) The news they're reporting is not true. We can't get the real story out. Nobody's coming to our aid. Please help us.
KUHN: Wukan residents claim that more than five years ago, village officials confiscated their communally-owned farmland and sold it to developers. They protested and in 2012, higher authorities sacked the officials. Then the villagers elected Lin Zuluan as their leader. But the farmers still didn't get all of their land back. Lin was planning new protests when he was arrested in June and sentenced to three years in jail for corruption. Mrs. Chen says the charges were trumped up.
CHEN: (Through interpreter) Our party secretary didn't take any bribes. He scrimped and saved his own salary to donate to schools. That's why the whole village supports him.
KUHN: China's Communist Party generally does not tolerate citizens giving their leaders the heave-ho in electing new ones. David Zweig, an expert on Chinese politics at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology says the ouster of the corrupt officials in Wukan may have had something to do with the then party boss of Guangdong province.
DAVID ZWEIG: He wanted very much to present himself as a reformer and so back five years ago, he put some pressure - we think - put some pressure on this case to allow for a re-election and to solve the problem.
KUHN: But since President Xi Jinping came to power five years ago, Zweig notes, the political atmosphere has tightened, and the message he's sending out appears to be...
ZWEIG: That order and stability and preventing mass activism is the call of the day.
KUHN: As of Wednesday, there are no signs of further resistance in Wukan. Villagers say police are searching homes and checking the IDs of everyone entering the village. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.