New riots in China – the way of the future?

Xinchang is the site of the latest riots, and it appears the villagers are learning how to maximize return on their efforts.

After three nights of increasingly heavy rioting, the police were taking no chances on Monday, deploying dozens of busloads of officers before dusk and blocking every road leading to the factory.

Protesters, who say the pharmaceuticals factory at Xinchang pollutes their water, were blocked on Monday by police barricades. There is rising discontent in China with the authorities’ failure to respond to grievances.

But the angry residents in this village 180 miles south of Shanghai had learned their lessons, too, they said, having studied reports of riots in towns near and far that have swept rural China in recent months. Sneaking over mountain paths and wading through rice paddies, they made their way to a pharmaceuticals plant, they said, determined to pursue a showdown over the environmental threat they say it poses.

As many as 15,000 people massed here Sunday night and waged a pitched battle with the authorities, overturning police cars and throwing stones for hours, undeterred by thick clouds of tear gas. Fewer people may have turned out Monday evening under rainy skies, but residents of this factory town in the wealthy Zhejiang Province vow they will keep demonstrating until they have forced the 10-year-old plant to relocate.

“This is the only way to solve problems like ours,” said a 22-year-old villager whose house sits less than 100 yards from the smashed gates of the factory, where the police were massed. “If you go to see the mayor or some city official, they just take your money and do nothing.”

The riots in Xinchang are a part of a rising tide of discontent in China, with the number of mass protests like these skyrocketing to 74,000 incidents last year from about 10,000 a decade earlier, according to government figures. The details have varied from incident to incident, but the recent protests all share a common foundation of accumulated anger over the failure of China’s political system to respond to legitimate grievances and defiance of the local authorities, who are often seen as corrupt.

A sign of the leadership’s growing concern over the increasing turbulence can be seen in a proliferation of high-level statements about the demonstrations.

In a nationally televised news conference this month, Li Jingtian, deputy director of the Communist Party’s organization bureau, complained that “with regard to our grassroots cadres, some of them are probably less competent, and they are not able to dissipate these conflicts or problems.”

Now is definitely the winter of our discontent. The CCP has been sending out signals they favor a compassionate approach, helping the oppressed villagers and seeking to rein in the corrup local officials. Maybe this can be a test.

You have to read the article to see that this is about much more than water pollutioun. The pharmaceutical plant is ruining people’s lives. It will take more than a police barricade to quell the furor.

The Discussion: 19 Comments

That’s not rioting, that’s grass roots democracy . . . with Chinese chracteristics.

July 19, 2005 @ 8:59 pm | Comment

All that I can say is that “furor” is the right word, and I see it all over the place here. Even in Shanghai. We are talking about too much overcrowding, pollution, dirtiness, general disrespect for others. I see people even in this city arguing all the time for basically no reason at all. I think furor is brewing all over, and that it will lead to some real instability.

July 19, 2005 @ 9:22 pm | Comment

You say: “The CCP has been sending out signals they favor a compassionate approach, helping the oppressed villagers and seeking to rein in the corrupt local officials.”

But its more accurate to say “some CPC leaders in Beijing” – after all, the corrupt local officials are the CPC also. And herein lies the real problem for the CPC bosses: how to deal with the irresponsibility of its own membership without going down the route of actually making officials responsible to those they govern? How to deal with the entrenched nexus of party bosses/property developers/red hat capitalists and bankers who really run China?

July 19, 2005 @ 10:32 pm | Comment

Hi Richard,

Dave from Blog the Talk here. I’ll be guest blogging on Simon’s site for a couple of weeks and posted something about the same article, not realizing you’d done it already! I’ll have to read your site more often…



July 20, 2005 @ 12:46 am | Comment

Oops, I blogged it too. Ah well…

July 20, 2005 @ 1:54 am | Comment

This is beyond me. I don’t understand it. There is a riot because there is an issue that affect people’s livelihood. So instead of working on a solution for the problem, the CCP deputy director is blaming the cadres for not working hard enough to suppress the riot. He is a politician with an attitude problem. With people like that in power, what chances would Chinese people have for a better future?

July 20, 2005 @ 3:13 am | Comment

Perhaps the CCP’s point of view is this:
3 000 000 villages in China, 30 000 protests a year. Means, 1% of the villagers are so angry that they protest. Not thaat much, is it?

July 20, 2005 @ 4:04 am | Comment

Protesters, who say the pharmaceuticals factory at Xinchang pollutes their water

Of course, if a similar protest ever occurred in the U.S., we’d have Rush Limbaugh and his clone army shrieking about “enviro-nazis” and urging the police to bash their skulls in.

July 20, 2005 @ 4:19 am | Comment

I have a slightly different view. The Chinese company polluting their fields, etc. Possible, many Chinese companies are egregious polluters, but not all. The Chinese company is just making goods for foreigners. Perhaps, but not necessarily. Sounds to me that this is just a rational that hurting this company is not doing any damage to China nor to Chinese people. Protesters want compensation. I think this is the real issue, money.

My experience is that the farmers are not particularly environmentally concerned individuals, but they do think they are missing out on the economic development. If I read correctly, the nearby town had a rather serious riot just recently. I think that many of the farmers, left out of the economic miracle, seeing wealth all around them, are hunting for some means to get their “share”.

I personally know several Chinese who are very much afraid of the country falling into anarchy and the farmers rising up and causing all sorts of mayhem. The party has pretty much lost legitimacy, but many fear without the party the country will be very unsafe. This is a serious problem, but I do not think it has anything to do with democracy or freedom, but with the distribution of wealth.

July 20, 2005 @ 5:34 am | Comment

I would have to agree with JFS.I haven’t met too many Chinese folks who care about the Environment simply for the Environment’s sake.It’s all about money. Whatever the reason it is a big problem for the Government. If it is about money, the Chinese can be real ruthless about getting it. A few riots now and later…….?

July 20, 2005 @ 7:35 am | Comment

Money won’t goad 1,5000 villagers to fight tear gas.

July 20, 2005 @ 9:40 am | Comment

JFS, I agree with what you say about the distribution of wealth. Huge parts of China exist now as they always have done. The last 20-30 years have hradly touched them and all the time they receive CCTV with views of the SH skyline, adverts for consumer goods etc.

I think a lot of locally-owned factories produce almost exclusively for the domestic matket. That’s my personal experience anyway. Foreigner-goods factories tend to be situated around Guangdong/Zhejiang, local factories tend to be dotted around the entire country.

Also, from personal experience, a lot of the heavily-polluting factories such as tanneries, dye factories and the like tend to be situated further inland where the loca govts are desperate to fill their new industrial parks.

July 20, 2005 @ 10:03 am | Comment

I don’t know – there may be some truth to what you say, JFS, but it’s not “the state of the environment” they are concerned with. It’s their fields, their kids, the cancer, the death, etc. Joseph Kahn had a great article on some place in Anhui somewhere – where the river is so polluted it causes stomach cancer to those who drink it within 6 months.

That’s pretty scary. I don’t think it’s just “economic jealousy” although I haven’t conducted a thorough survey, I’ll admit. But with problems like the ones that are propping up, I’d be very surprised if it is such jealousy. You can’t be jealous of economic development if you have to worry about where you can find food you can eat and water to drink without getting poisoned.

Brings me to my next point – the food these villagers are producing – is it getting into circulation? Cause that’s not very good. I don’t want to get stomach cancer from eating food produced near a lot of benzene and DMSO waste from a pharma plant.

July 20, 2005 @ 10:46 am | Comment

JFS – I re-read your points – all good ones, and I refine my argument just to say what I said and not to respond to yours. What you say makes a lot of sense. But like Bing said, I think in some (or many, maybe) cases it is probably more eggregious than just distribution of wealth. I think sometimes it probably borders on ridding the factories that are poisoning China. Check out my post on “Land” on my blog for a little info on what is happening to chinese farmland and why the farmers might start to equate polluters like factories with being the perpetrators.

July 20, 2005 @ 10:50 am | Comment

Don’t worry too much about the food grown from poisoned fields and water.

Becasue that kind of naturally poisoned food is much “healthier” than artificailly poisoned food which is nowadays all over China and only avoidable if you don’t eat there.

July 20, 2005 @ 10:53 am | Comment

Without exaggeration, I’d like to advice those of your who stay in China do not eat out and do cooking yourself for your only good.

July 20, 2005 @ 11:02 am | Comment


July 20, 2005 @ 1:40 pm | Comment

Bing – you’re scaring me. Care to qualify it a bit? what about the MaLaTang on the street corner? I can see them cooking that in front of my eyes.

July 20, 2005 @ 4:26 pm | Comment

“Chinese riot farmers regain land”

Apparently the farmers that were on the TV a while ago have got some of the land back. Something good I suppose.

I did try to say this just after the thread opened, but there was an error and I couldn’t post. dylan was right when he talked about accountability. The corruption will always be a problem until the officials have the prod they need to do the “right thing” – accountability, aka being elected. So the CCP is its own worst enemy in many ways.

July 21, 2005 @ 3:03 am | Comment

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