Zhang Lijia

The village of Wukan was one of the latest high-profile uprisings of an increasingly better educated and world-savvy class of migrants. In The Diplomat celebrity author Zhang Lijia analyses why China’s ‘peasants’ will get their rights too.

Zhang Lijia:

“A Chinese farmer is like a gentle bull that can endure a lot,” activist Chen Guangcheng told me back in 2002, in the wake of a riot in his home province of Shandong. “But when it’s provoked, it will get angry and charge.”

Recent events, including in the village of Wukan, in southern China, have proven his point. Angry over corrupt local officials and land appropriations, hundreds of villagers staged a series of protests that reached a head in December as the local authorities attempted to crack down on dissent. The intense standoff was only ended after top provincial leaders agreed to some of the villagers’ demands

A decade later, thanks in part to better education, greater mobility and easier access to modern communications, it’s clear that Chinese peasant farmers and migrant workers are increasingly conscious of their rights. Indeed, in the middle of the unfolding Wukan drama, the de facto head of the uprising told the New York Times: “I do believe that this country is ruled by the law.” Rights, it seems, were very much on the minds of the villagers – especially those that had travelled to other parts of China…

Ultimately, China’s leaders will have to grant the same rights to those who make iPhones as they do to those who use them. And they must be mindful not to provoke the bulls. After all, there are millions of them out there.

More background in The Diplomat.

Zhang Lijia is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need her at your meeting of conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.

Zhang Lijia on China’s moral crisis in Storify.

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