The 13,000 residents of Wukan, in the wealthy province of Guangdong, are in open revolt against officialdom and have driven out local Communist Party leaders who they say have been stealing their land for years.
Many local businesses have been closed for the past week while schools have been shuttered as riot police blockade the village, which has for months been the scene of occasionally violent protests over land seizures.
Authorities have vowed to crack down on the instigators of the latest unrest, which was triggered by the arrest nine days ago of five villagers, one of whom died last Sunday in police custody.
Authorities say the 42-year-old man suffered a heart attack, while relatives who saw the body said they believed he had been beaten to death.
Villagers told AFP on Sunday they will march to government offices in Lufeng city on Wednesday unless the body of Xue Jinbo is returned and the other four villagers still in police custody are released.
“If they do not return our people then for sure we will march to Lufeng,” said a villager surnamed Zhang, 44, who told AFP his family’s plot of farmland was taken from him in 1995. It would be the third such march since September.
Community leaders have started to collect donations of food and money for the “several hundred villagers” struggling to feed themselves due to the cordons of police and riot squads blocking the main roads in and out of Wukan.
“Yesterday we raised about 10,000 yuan ($1,575) in donations for the poorer people,” said a villager surnamed Chen, outside a building where a dozen 20-kilogramme (44-pound) sacks of rice were stacked.
Villagers complain that local leaders have been stealing their land for decades. Anger boiled over in September when a lucrative housing project involving yet more valuable farmland was announced.
The villagers marched to a nearby police post and violent clashes ensued. Since then, Wukan has driven out local Communist leaders who residents say have ruled the village as despots.