Shanwei local TV news called him a “mob”; South Daily, an official newspaper in Guangdong, incited that he was a “gangster”; Wanted posters reading “Wanted: Lin Zulian” were pasted conspicuously all over Shanwei’s street. A retired old man always wearing a white down jacket living at a village in Guangdong was listed a chief “insurgent” planning subversion to local government.
Mr. Lin Zuluan’s village has been through massive protests against Shanwei local government for illegal farmland purchasing and was locked by military police in winter last year.
Succinct, mild, experienced as he was, Mr. Lin enjoyed high prestige and respect among Wukan villagers. He served as a planner and connector with media, mainly are overseas. For Wukan, Mr. Lin was the “counselor” for the temporary representative committee; for western media, he was the “spokesman”; for Wukan villagers, he was a just old man.
The first day I sneaked in Wukan, a foreign journalist from Abu Dhabi told me that Lin Zulian (He got the wrong name too) was Wukan’s spokesman. We, overseas journalists, sneaked in this village by all possible means to hide from police’s search. I didn’t notice an old man, talking with journalists in “media center” at times, living besides our temporary “media center”, was that Lin Zulian.
I even didn’t realize who he was at the first night I arrived there and slept in his house. Mr. Lin offered a bed in his own house; his wife cooked for hungry journalist; surprisingly, hot showers were ready every night when I returned to his house. He seemed like no criminal in the least to me, let alone a mob. Why a criminal would bother to offer food, shelter to a young intern journalist?
It was the next morning that I found out he was Lin Zuluan. I saw him having interview with a foreign newspaper, a villager pointed out to me that he was the Lin Zuluan I was looking for.
“Lin Zuluan is me, but I am not Lin Zulian. Luan and Lian are the same pronunciation in the Teochew dialect that probably misleads foreigners.” The 70-year-old laughed out.
Mr. Lin Zuluan was old, tall, and thin wearing glasses; he didn’t talk so much in public, except in rallies and interviews. His spoke mandarin with a little Teochew accent; he can speak Cantonese as well.
“Is there anyone trying to bribe you, in return, you have to give up in the protest?” I asked.
“Obviously, but I don’t fight for money. I am an old CCP member; I support the CCP central government. But the local one is too corruptive. We lost our farmland; it’s a shame on us, it’s our shame to next generations, if we don’t stand up to get back the land.” he replied.
Mr. Lin received pressure from other aspects. His oldest son was working in Dongguan Building and Construction Commission, a subordinate department of Dongguan government. Pressure from superiors kept disturbing his son and Mr. Lin. At intervals, his son was appointed to persuade his old father to give in.
“I always comfort my son, and send him back to Dongguan, when he was sent back by his superiors in the village to convince me. He is in tough situation like us, but I won’t give up.” Mr. Lin insisted.
16 years ago, Mr. Lin retired and returned to Wukan, where he was born and raised. His three sons have been working in the Pearl River delta. They bring the family a handsome income that Mr. Lin used to build a 3-story house, which became the temporary “Headquarter” of Wukan.
The dining on the first floor was used to discuss and entertain media; beside it, Mr. Lin slept in a room; Second floor’s monitor room managed cameras put in the main gate and side walls of the house, in case of break-in.
Actually, the monitor room was also the base for young men. Xiao Lin, Mr. Lin’s grandson, was called back from work in Shenzhen to support the protest. He and other young men resided in the monitor room, kept eye on the monitor, spread instant updates online as Mr. Lin planned.
The archive room on 3rd floor where I slept in housed layers of files, documents regarding land purchasing and former corruptive village committee whose heads escaped since the protests started. Proofs were well reserved to defend the villagers.
Mr. Lin was an opinion leader in Wukan’s affairs, villagers liked to discuss with him. But he actually had no official position in the temporary villager committee. Mr. Lin talked slowly and orderly, sometimes with gestures.
“Wukan’s current situation results from Shanwei’s greedy officials. It can be summarized in one word, that is dark, dark, dark(黑，黑，黑)”! The former soldier shouted it out with fingers pointed at an angle.
Mr. Lin has many characteristics of Teochow people, as an old saying goes “Teochew people are the Thunder God on the earth.” A middle man sent by Shanwei government tried to persuade him to give in. Mr. Lin wrote down his reply on a paper saying “I wouldn’t shun away from my responsibility, and would turn myself in, when Wukan’s issues can be solved as we wish”.
Two days after I left Wukan, Lin Zuluan was allowed to meet vice-governor to seek a compromise, who was leading a work group from Guangzhou, aimed at solving Wukan’s protest peacefully. Mr. Lin gave a press conference right before he stepped out to meet the vice-governor; the conference itself turned into a guarantee for Mr. Lin that any outrage would be laid on him during the meeting.
One day after that, a promise that all villagers won’t be pressed any charges has been made by the vice-governor; an order that three arrested villagers should be released was issued.
Sever days later, Mr. Lin was appointed as the new secretary of village committee by the Party though he was once wanted as a top criminal.
45 days later, Wukan embraced its first village election. Mr. Lin’s retirement is yet to come.