Thousands of people gathered in the besieged Guangdong village of Wukan on Friday to mourn a fellow protester who died last week amid fierce clashes between police and an embattled farming community furious over alleged official corruption and the sale of their land.
"There were more than 5,000 people here," said a resident surnamed Zhuang who attended the memorial rally for fellow villager Xue Jinbo, who died in police custody last week after being arrested for inciting local people to protest.
"We held it in the open area in the center of the village," he said. "All of [Xue's] relatives were there."
Xue's death was blamed on a heart attack by the government, and an official autopsy found "no visible signs of external force" on the body. But Xue's relatives have rejected the finding, saying his body was covered from head to toe in bruises when they went to a morgue in the nearby city of Shanwei to identify it.
Photos of the event posted online showed villagers packed into a space between houses, many wearing traditional sackcloth funeral clothing and yellow mourning headbands.
"Pretty much everyone came," said a woman who also attended the rally.
Villagers said many migrants who had gone to the big cities to work had now returned to their hometown.
"The migrant workers have all come back now," said a villager surnamed Chen who was unable to attend because of mobility problems.
He added: "[Xue's death was] so cruel. We are having a very hard time here in Wukan right now."
However, the memorial activities, laying of wreaths and temple ceremonies for the dead went ahead without Xue's body, sources close to the family said.
"The police have made it very clear that they will not give the body back," said a friend of the Xue family. "They have agreed to award compensation."
He said police had called Xue's brother to discuss compensation. "He said he didn't want money, but to take his body back with him," the friend said. "The police did not agree to this."
"His brother told them: 'What do I need money for? Just give us the body.'"
Sources in Wukan also said that the police were making the removal of all barricades in the village a precondition of the return of Xue's body and the release of the remaining detained villagers.
Wukan residents are calling on Chinese leaders in Beijing to carry out an independent probe into allegations of corruption surrounding the sale of their farmland, for the election of local officials, and for answers about Xue's death.
The village has been besieged by security forces for more than a week after residents have fought off thousands of riot police using barricades and homemade weapons.
The authorities moved in recent days to block online content related to the Wukan protest, although similar protests have erupted in nearby Longtou village over similar issues.
Xue's death followed several weeks of highly organized and vocal demonstrations. Thousands of villagers protested in Donghai township, near Guangdong's Lufeng city in October, complaining about abuse of power by local officials and calling for fair elections.
Wukan's farming community says it wants action taken over alleged corruption and abuse of power by the village Communist party chief Xue Chang, who has occupied the post for more than 40 years.
They accuse him and other local officials of ballot-rigging so as to ensure grassroots candidates can never win an election against him.
They said the committee has sold off large tracts of arable land in recent years, but that local residents have never benefited from these secret deals, which eventually led to the pollution of a local harbor, a lifeline for many fishing families.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.