Postcard: Xiantang

Gilai Shen for TIME

Xiantang residents have occupied city hall, where a poster depicts ousted leaders

The gleaming white government headquarters building that sits in the middle of Xiantang, a village of 3,500 in China's industrial heartland of Guangdong, is a concrete symbol of that which is wrong with the country's economic boom. The structure was built a few years ago as surrounding farmlands were being turned into residential developments. It was supposed to be the Communist Party's local power center. But there are no cadres in sight. Since July 2, Xiantang has had no leadership.

That was the day hundreds of villagers, saying they were fed up with...

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