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Sufficiently violent suppression may hold the line against peasant unrest


Part 1

"I'm a public official. If this guy causes me more problems, I'll pay 20,000 kuai [about $2,500] and have him knocked off." - Verbal threat spread by eyewitnesses via by mobile phones, text messages and word of mouth resulting in an instant protest of 30,000 to 70,000 people in Wanzhou.

Given that rural resentment "against corrupt local officials, pollution, land seizures, and the growing wealth gap between the urban rich and rural poor" will only rise in the short to medium term, I would expect rural resistance and demonstrations will continue rising in number, intensity and casualties. And given that the CCP has not the means to placate the farmers or quell the hosts of self-interest and corruption, that it will resort to rising suppression combined with an "after action" plainclothes police presence to identify and punish instigators and supporters, and the sacking local officials that fail to prevent recurrences.

Articles from the New York Times and CNN cite similar statistics (and Asia Times cites Outlook Weekly as the source):

Police statistics show the number of public protests reached nearly 60,000 in 2003, an increase of nearly 15 percent from 2002 and eight times the number a decade ago. Martial law and paramilitary troops are commonly needed to restore order when the police lose control.

The Times continues:

China does not have a Polish-style Solidarity labor movement. Protests may be so numerous in part because they are small, local expressions of discontent over layoffs, land seizures, use of natural resources, ethnic tensions, misspent state funds, forced immigration, unpaid wages or police killings. Yet several mass protests, like the one in Wanzhou, show how people with different causes can seize an opportunity to press their grievances together.

The shangfang, a system of petitioning the government used by Mao Zedong forward to present a benevolent face to what was in effect imperial rule, is no longer working and its failure eliminates the only grievance channel available to the poor or unconnected:

petitions to the central government had increased 46 percent in 2003 from the year before, but that only two-hundredths of 1 percent of those who used the system said it worked.

Peasant/farmer activism has shifted in priority and location as tax disputes concentrated in central China have been replaced by land disputes in "more developed coastal areas" where encroaching economic development makes land more valuable than that in the center, can be "sold immediately, and this makes local governments try to control it." Land use and health of the land under cultivation is a binary survival decision for farmers yet any greening of the Chinese environment will continue to face daunting political, economic and human barriers:

  • Implementation is beastly difficult on the ground: "Local officials, either colluding with corrupt local businesses or believing that nothing must be allowed to slow economic growth, take the traditional view that the "mountains are high and the emperor is far away.""
  • Absence of the rule of law: environmental regulations are unenforced and offenders go unpunished.
  • Environmentalists and democratic activists are fellow travelers: convergence of aims between the pair could put environmentalists in the crosshairs if the CCP cracks down on activists. At the least, I think that, all things being equal, the liberal relationship is a break on environmental efforts.

There are a small but rising number of protests in which the farmers carry the day and remain in control (at least temporarily) of disputed land. Where as many as 100,000 farmers in Sichuan Province barring work on a hydroelectric dam after months of appeals were routed by 10,000 paramilitary troops, some 20,000 farmers routed an estimated 3,000 policemen and civilians assigned to destroy a blockade of the Zhuxi Industrial Park containing "13 private and joint state-private factories [eight of which] produced chemical products [while] others worked with plastic."

While 6 of the 13 factories were ordered to leave Huaxi, uniformed and plainclothes police have "established a heavy presence in Huaxi and local residents have been enlisted in the hunt for those responsible for the peasant rebellion [while] a "system of punishment and prevention" has been put into place to create a "harmonious society." The authorities' next step is "to investigate some party members who were believed to be leaders of the riot."

Part 3 Escalating state response

For Chinese, Peasant Revolt Is Rare Victory
By Edward Cody
Washington Post
June 13, 2005
diagram of the Zhuxi Industrial Park

EastSouthWestNorth is an excellent China blog with good translations and thoughtful positioning of sources as to their to their bias whether they are government, NGO or private:
The Long Story About Huaxi/Huankantou
1 June, 2005
Citizen Reporters On The Huankantou/Huaxi Incident
24 May, 2005
Q&A about Huaxi/Huankantou
24 April, 2005
Excellent links to articles (some of which have scrolled off or been blocked by censors, but in such cases a mirror is often provided.)

Thousands of Chinese Villagers Protest Factory Pollution
New York Times
April 13, 2005

China's 'Haves' Stir the 'Have Nots' to Violence
New York Times
December 31, 2004
Scrolled to
Mirrored here and here

China faces up to growing unrest
By Paul Mooney
Asia Times
Nov 16, 2004

Scrapping safety-valve petition could backfire
By Antoaneta Bezlova
Asia Times
Nov 11, 2004

Massive Protest by Sichuan Farmers Squashed by Police
The Epoch Times
Nov 10, 2004

Significant shift in focus of peasants' rights activism
Interview with rural development researcher Yu Jianrong of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS)
Written by Zhao Ling; translated by Manfred Elfstrom
Southern Weekend
Date Published: September 3, 2004

The Great Chinese Land Grab is on
By Xia Yunfan
Asia Times
Jul 17, 2004

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Strategic Risk Public  


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