WHEN township officials need to get into the locked government office of Shibaihu Village, they know to come to the home of Li Peng, sidestep his goats and dogs, and ask him (or his elderly mother) for the key. Mr Li (pictured) is not an official nor a Communist Party member. He is an activist, and a rather effective one. (via Rural activism: Working the system | The Economist)
- Mr Li and his family have been on the wrong side of officials in this windswept northern village (population 1,200) for half a century, including disputes over land and public finances. Their struggles demonstrate how power operates at the lowest rung of politics: the villages where half the country resides, and where a few officials can hold capricious sway over fellow villagers they’ve known all their lives, and to whom they may even be related. Researchers say there are tens of thousands of rural protests a year, often coming to naught.
- But the Li family’s dogged insurgency demonstrates something else too: that there can be some give and take in China’s authoritarian system; that in local skirmishes there exist potential allies within that system (including official media); and that an activist can occasionally win.
- Through shrewd activism, he has worked to have illegal mines and quarries shut down, to get seized farmland returned to villagers and even to have a few officials thrown out of office. Along the way he has made some powerful enemies in the village. Local thugs smashed his old computer (they didn’t know he had upgraded to a laptop) and have thrown rocks through his windows. “My relationship with the party committee is not good,” he says. But with help from journalists (and from a niece who taught him how to blog), he has charted a pragmatic path between the millions of farmers who file useless formal petitions about local abuses and the dissidents who go to prison for their advocacy of greater freedoms.