But it's not only the older crowd. The most effective young activist in Wukan is probably a 20 year old surnamed Zhang, the village's videographer. He spent two years at a vocational school in a nearby city where he taught himself to use a video camera, with the goal of becoming an independent filmmaker. When protests started in September, he returned with his camera. Zhang's footage of police violence and his friend's eye-catching protest banners distributed to journalists on compact discs and posted on Chinese microblogs brought Wukan to the world's attention.
While the Wukan movement made global headlines, local news was suppressed by Chinese government censors. Some Chinese netizens, however, have still found ways to spread news from Wukan around the country, using different Chinese characters for the village's name. Some posts were forwarded thousands of times before being deleted by censors.
Despite government warnings and increased surveillance on dissidents during this last week, more than a dozen activists made their way through police checkpoints and into the village, sneaking in on side roads and helped by sympathizers from other villages. Some of them had earlier this year participated in the still ongoing campaign against the house arrest of the blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng and his family, a cause célèbre most recently taken up by film star Christian Bale. Veteran activists tweeted about the scene to the outside world, offering advice to the villagers.
Still, there were tensions between the two groups: Dissidents wanted to make this protest the start of a wider movement for broader social change across China, while most Wukanese stressed that they only wanted resolution of their local issues, and that they maintained trust in the Communist Party. Surprisingly, even though Wukan's leaders called for an end to the protest and the roads around the city have been opened, the village still enjoys autonomy. Whether this is the start of a softer approach by the Chinese government to rural unrest, or just a way to quiet things in Wukan until the media loses interest, remains to be seen.
Zheng Yanxiong, a mid-ranking official, best captured the mood in a speech that went viral over the Chinese Internet. Zheng reproached Wukan for seeking help from the foreign media instead of the government, and dismissed claims of police violence as false. In a moment of probably unintentional honesty, he said: "As villagers get smarter, they become harder to manage." If this intelligence spreads it could be difficult indeed.