China's tough handling of recent protests by villagers in Taishi, southern Guangdong province, has thrown into fresh doubt its claims to be introducing genuine democracy "from the bottom up".This is really quite sad. I keep trying to be optimistic about the Chinese leadership, but I'm increasingly feeling stupid for doing so.
Direct elections of local officials by almost a million villages across the country have in recent years been widely welcomed as a possible first step towards a multi-party state.
They were seen as the single most important political change in a period when China has otherwise devoted itself almost entirely to economic development.
But the arrest of dozens of villagers and their legal advisers since the launch of a petition in July to dismiss the director of the Taishi village committee have gained nationwide attention, with many concluding that the government is no more serious about grassroots democracy than any other sort of political reform....
The lawyer who helped the villagers with their claim has reportedly been arrested, and a political activist involved in the dispute reportedly beaten up.
"The Government responded in a violent and reckless way," said Hou Wenzhuo, director of the Empowerment and Rights Institute, a non-governmental activists' group in Beijing.
"At first they reluctantly allowed the petition. But then up to 1,000 police raided the village and acted like gangsters, using water hoses on the farmers and arresting 48 local inhabitants, including old women."
For those who haven't been following it, the Taishi elections have been the first village-level elections which have achieved national prominence. The Party's candidate, in a democratic system, would already be gone. Unfortunately, it looks like the Party is still afraid of the people. What Hu Jintao doesn't seem to get is that it's behaviour like this that makes the people fearsome.