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Why China's Experiment in Direct Democracy Is Flawed

  • Wukan erupts in new protests five years after historic vote
  • ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same’
A local resident votes during elections in the village of Wukan on March 31, 2014. Polling stations opened on March 31 in the Chinese village of Wukan, which held landmark democratic elections after rebelling against Communist Party officials, but the new vote was shadowed by fears local authorities are reasserting their grip on power. AFP PHOTO/Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Photographer: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
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Five years ago Wednesday, the tiny fishing enclave of Wukan drew international attention after villagers rose up in a land dispute, eventually securing a landmark local election in China. It has since become a cautionary tale for the nation’s democratic reformers.

The village about 150 kilometers (90 miles) northeast Hong Kong erupted anew this month, as protesters returned to the streets to challenge the graft conviction of one of the last remaining leaders elected after the 2011 uprising. Videos circulated on social media showed riot police clashing with brick-throwing demonstrators and raiding the homes of alleged organizers. Authorities said Sept. 13 that they had detained at least 13 villagers over their suspected role in the protests.