When Geographers take over Wukan
Three French geographers have focused on global media coverage of a local Chinese protest, an event which has been largely ignored within China itself. In September 2011, Wukan, a village of 20,000 people on the coast of the province of Guangdong, witnessed a revolt of its inhabitants who stormed local government headquarters in response to illegal seizures of farmland. The event shook international news media without China’s national media mentioning the protest. Before the information was quickly picked up and relayed by the world press, the Hong Kong and Taiwanese presses were the first to become the mouthpieces of outraged Wukan citizens. It was only through Chinese social networks (Weibo) that information on the events circulated on the Chinese internet.
Geographers were able to measure media coverage of the revolt by the number of articles published daily, showing both “a local movement, [and] a global media event“. The charts they produced show the geographical distribution (fig. 1) of media coverage of the mobilization, as well as its chronological distribution (fig. 2), following all the events that shook Wukan from September 23, 2011: the mobilization of residents against the installation of commercial projects on ancestral land for the benefit of local officials, the arrest of movement leaders in front of authorities, the death in custody of representative Xue Jinbo, leaks from village officials, the snowball effect in the region, and the first local elections in Wukan.
In less than a year, between the beginning of the protest movement and May 2012, 952 articles were published on the subject, mainly in newspapers based in Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Editorial publication saw a peak in December 2012 with more than 400 articles published in 35 different countries in just one month.
One of the authors, Nicolas Douay, tells us that their approach came from joint interests for “social movements and use of the web” and “media geography within the GeoMedia project” (for Timothée Giraud and Marta Severo).