Category Archives: protests

“Chinese take to streets on reports truck driver killed by police”

Reuters on the newest mass protests to emerge in Sichuan:

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of the southwestern Chinese city of Luzhou on Wednesday after reports a truck driver had been beaten to death by policemen, residents said, but state media said the driver had died after falling ill.

“People are very angry about this and are out on the streets to show their anger,” said one resident of the Hongxingcun neighbourhood where the unrest was focused. He did not witness the incident and declined to give his name.

A manager at a local restaurant who gave her family name as Wang added that several thousand people had taken to the streets.

Images posted later in the evening showed overturned police cars, some of which had been set alight. Some Weibo posts said police had used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.

The official Xinhua news agency said the driver had “suddenly felt uncomfortable” during a scuffle with police about where to park his truck, and doctors called to the scene were unable to save his life.

“As a result, some people attacked police cars at the site, the report added.

I hope ‘suddenly felt uncomfortable’ will join the ranks of sad excuse catchphrases of the year.

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Foxconn Riots: A Big Deal?

I’ll admit, I mostly shrugged off the news about riots at a Foxconn plant in Taiyuan a few days ago. Foxconn is already famous for a series of worker suicides, and that the riot took place at an iPhone 5 factory shouldn’t be too surprising either- don’t we all already know that Apple doesn’t really think very differently than any other huge company when it comes to the conditions in which its products are made? Evan Osnos writes about what we should take away from this incident:

Though most of the iPhone assembly is done elsewhere, workers said that the iPhone was being made there, too, so the story leapt onto front pages. Anything attached to Apple gets more than its share of attention, but in this case, the Apple factor is far less interesting than what this instance of labor unrest suggests about the months ahead for China.

The riot at Foxconn—or any of the other five hundred “mass incidents” that China records on an average day—has implications far beyond Apple. Labor activists say that they are happening more often this year than last. A little over a week ago, six thousand workers at a Flextronics Technology factory in Shanghai went on strike for severance pay. In June, it was a hundred workers in a mini-uproar at another Foxconn plant. They are no longer simply calling for better wages. “Many of the protests this year appear to be related to the country’s economic slowdown, as employees demand the payment of overdue wages from financially struggling companies, or insist on compensation when money-losing factories in coastal provinces are closed and moved to lower-cost cities in the interior,” as the Times put it.

But the deeper problem is about institutions. Day by day, Chinese workers expect better conditions and greater guarantees that when companies go bust, the employees will not. And, yet, China permits no independent trade unions or free collective bargaining. Complaint and mediation procedures are weak. China today still has, more or less, the same Party-sponsored national trade union it has had for sixty years, even as the economy and the population have transformed. If Beijing is to avoid more riots in the months and years ahead, it needs to stop seeing this as an Apple problem and start seeing it as a China problem.

I’d agree with him that this is a good case to use to an example of the problems facing Chinese workers and labor, but still, as far as I can tell it’s only the Apple connection that made this incident stand out. Otherwise, ‘conditions are bad; workers strike/riot’ is about as Chinese a story as you can get.

More details from China Labor Bulletin:

Photographs and video uploaded to the Internet showed upturned police cars, fences demolished, bikes set on fire and dormitory windows smashed, and many reports claimed that shops inside the complex were broken into. Several thousand armed police were called in to restore order and Foxconn said that some 40 individuals were taken to hospital for treatment.

Although the official version of events from Foxconn attributed the violence to a dispute between workers from different provinces, many workers present at the time were certain the violence erupted after a security guard abused a female employee.

Workers’ sentiment on China’s online forums was divided, some angry, some joyful. Workers were eager to post photos and make comments on the events. And some workers from other Foxconn plants in Henan, Shandong, and Shenzhen posted letters praising the Taiyuan workers for their courage to start a riot.

Amid the general exuberance, there were a few voices calling on workers to stay calm and be rational. A worker, who said he had been employed at Taiyuan Foxconn for three years, highlighted the failure of the Foxconn trade unions to properly represent workers’ interests. This he said had complicated the longstanding conflict between management and workers. He hoped workers could handle the conflict in a rational manner in order to avoid unnecessary casualties.

This post was immediately challenged by another worker, who responded that workers had not meant to instigate a riot but that they had no other way to address injustice. When they called a hotline to complain about the abusive security guards, for example, they were told their complaint could not be handled.

Although several workers posted demands to set up their own more representative trade union, they are unlikely to gain support from local official unions like the workers from Ohms Electronics did in Shenzhen. Foxconn is a major investor in many inland provinces and government officials are eager to please the world’s largest electronics maker by helping it recruit workers. In addition, one of the reasons Foxconn moved its manufacturing bases to China in the first place was to dodge strong unions in Taiwan.

If this reminds us that labor in China is a major source of instability, and that a slowing economy is exacerbating these issues, that’s fine. Otherwise, I don’t see why this is getting disproportionately larger media coverage than any of the comparable incidents that take place on a very regular basis.

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Filed under labor dispute, migrant workers, protests

“Beijing’s Dangerous Game”

Perry Link in the NYRoB on the anti-Japan protests, good as always:

Many have ascribed the vehemence of the protests to deep-rooted anti-Japanese sentiment linked to injustices committed by Japan eighty years ago. But there is little evidence to support this. Rather the protests appear to have everything to do with the interests of China’s current rulers, at a moment when the top leadership in Beijing is in turmoil.

The Chinese state media suggest that Chinese people have long memories of Japan’s invasion of China in 1931, when the Japanese army carried out a brutal massacre of civilians in the capital city of Nanjing in 1937. According to them, what we see today are echoes of this longstanding “national insult.” But there are not many people in China today who personally remember the 1930s. Recollections of these distant events handed down within families are not that strong, and moreover must compete with some terrible memories of the intervening Mao era. The anti-Japan expression that we see on the streets today springs largely from other sources.

In 1985, nine years after Mao’s death, a Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall opened in Nanjing. China’s textbooks and media also began to mention the massacre, and the government began to use the issue as a way to stimulate nationalism and draw support to itself. The anti-Japan vitriol that we see in the streets today comes much more from that “education” since the 1980s than it does from memories of the 1930s. In 1998 Jiang Zemin, China’s president, visited Japan and demanded a written apology for Japan’s invasion of China. Public demonstrations against Japan have flared occasionally since then, often after government prodding but always under government monitoring and control.

It is significant that the numbers of protesters, by Chinese standards, are small. Crowds are in the hundreds, rarely over a thousand. By contrast the crowd at the pro-democracy demonstrations at Tiananmen in 1989 reached a million at its peak. There is no doubt which cause had the deeper appeal. Today, too, measured in numbers, the complaints of Chinese protesters are overwhelmingly not about uninhabited islands but about things closer to home—corruption, pollution, land annexation, special privilege, and abuse of power—and the usual adversaries today are not Japan but Chinese officials and the wealthy people associated with them.

From the regime’s point of view, the reporting is the whole point. The purpose of instigating protests is to generate “mass opinion” to serve a political purpose. Let me offer an especially clear example from a different context. In March, 2008, in Lhasa, Tibet, young Tibetans went on a rampage against Chinese shop owners. Some people say that agents provocateurs were at work, some say not. But in either case, credible eyewitnesses on both sides reported that for several hours Chinese police stood by and did nothing. They watched the looting and burning of stores while reporters from state-owned media made video recordings. Only when the taping was over did the police step in, arresting hundreds. Then, during the ensuing seventy-two hours, Chinese television—nationwide—showed and re-showed the video footage, explaining that the Dalai Lama, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, had been the instigator of the mayhem. Twenty days later, when young Tibetans ventured onto the streets of Lhasa and seemed ready to protest again, the police quelled them instantly. This time there was no need for videotapes.

What is it, today, that the people at the top in China want to achieve by stimulating and advertising anti-Japan sentiment? They do not say, of course, so the world must guess, but in broad outline the guessing isn’t very hard. The people at the top, who are used to maintaining a smooth façade, have every reason right now to distract attention from the unexpectedly messy handover of power now taking place, the results of which are hugely important to them.

The men at the top are very adept at staying there, and doubtlessly are aware of the dangers of this game. To them, stirring up and giving media attention to anti-Japan sentiment is a way to further their psychological engineering of the Chinese public. They know that it carries a risk. But the potential damage to the regime that could come from letting the public concentrate on their power transition, or get a deeper look into how corruption and special privilege work, is even greater.

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, Communist Party, Japan, protests

“Chinese Flag Removed Again”

China just can’t keep its flag up in Tibet, where RFA reports it was pulled down again in Kardze a few days ago:

On Friday, the Chinese flag was removed and the Tibetan flag hoisted around midnight at an elementary school in the Tibetan-populated Sershul (Shiqu in Chinese) county, according to Jampa Yonten, a Tibetan exile monk based in southern India, citing sources in the region.

“At midnight on Friday, the Chinese national flag on a pole in the Wenbo township elementary school was taken down, and a Tibetan flag was raised instead,” Jampa Yonten told RFA’s Mandarin service on Sunday.

“At that time, there were also a lot of leaflets scattered on the ground in the school. On those leaflets, the words ‘Freedom for Tibet’ were written in red letters.”

The exiled monk said the previous Chinese flag-removal incident at the school occurred on February 4 amid a spate of deadly protests against Chinese rule in Sichuan province and that Chinese authorities had then sent hundreds of police personnel to the area in a bid to tighten security.

It’s worth keeping in mind once again that Kardze was outside of the area controlled by the Lhasa government at the time of the Chinese invasion, and as far as I know the Tibetan flag used by Lhasa at the time never flew there. Beijing loves to remind us that these areas haven’t been directly ruled by the Lhasa government in some time, but this is illustrative of how Tibetan national sentiment is a major force across all of Tibet, not just the province labeled as such by Beijing.

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Filed under protests, Tibet

“Hong Kong backs down over Chinese patriotism classes”

After weeks of protests and the threat of further politicizing a populace that has been turning against mainland rule and the Communist Party, the HK government has offered a partial surrender on the issue (via BBC):

City leader Leung Chun-ying said the classes would be optional for schools.

“The schools are given the authority to decide when and how they would like to introduce the moral and national education,” he said.

The plans sparked weeks of protest and the changes came a day after activists said more than 100,000 protesters rallied at government headquarters.

Unlike the rest of China, Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of freedom, including a free press, the right to assemble and transparent, accountable institutions.

The BBC’s Juliana Liu, in Hong Kong, says the row is the latest example of the cultural, social and political gap that exists between Hong Kong and its mainland masters.

It also highlights the deep suspicion with which many Hong Kong people continue to regard the Chinese government.

I wonder how schools will take this- might China try the same financial incentive schemes they use abroad to support Confucius Institutes abroad, or encourage Communist Party members in school administrations to implement the classes? And how will Hong Kongers react to schools that ‘choose’ to hold these classes- boycott the schools, or just let it go?

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Filed under education, Hong Kong, protests

“Tibetans clash with police in west China; 1 dead”

Two more Tibetans have self-immolated in Ngaba, and the AP has a story about the violence that followed:

Police in far west China beat a Tibetan man to death during a clash that broke out after two Tibetans set themselves on fire, a U.S. broadcaster said Tuesday, in the worst flaring of violence in the region in months.

The violence occurred Monday in Sichuan province’s Aba prefecture, which has emerged as a center of political activism and the site of dozens of self-immolations in the past few years. The area, home to the influential Kirti Monastery, has been flooded with security forces, but they have been unable to stop the immolation protests.

Radio Free Asia said in an emailed statement that a Kirti monk named Lungtok and another man, identified only as Tashi, set themselves alight Monday evening. It cited a Tibetan in the Aba area who was not identified by name and other unidentified people inside Tibet.

The report said a large number of police tried to clear the immolation site and ended up clashing with Tibetans.

A woman who answered the telephone at the Aba police department said there had been no immolations or confrontations between police and Tibetan locals. “Nothing like that has happened,” said the woman, who like many bureaucrats in China refused to give her name. The phone of the local Communist Party Propaganda Office rang unanswered.

Nearly 50 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in China since 2009, with many shouting anti-government slogans and calling for the return of their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. At least 17 were monks or former monks from Kirti, according to an earlier tally from the International Campaign for Tibet.

Monday’s clash with police marked the worst flaring of violence in Sichuan since a series of protests in January that Tibetan activist groups say left six Tibetans dead. The Chinese government said at the time that two rioters were killed.

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Filed under protests, Self-Immolation Crisis, Tibet, violence

“Taking It to the Street in China”

This NYT piece was the best one I saw about the Qidong protests, which rocked a town near Shanghai last week:

On Saturday, thousands of angry residents of Qidong, a seaport town near Shanghai, decided they weren’t going to take it anymore. They took to the streets to protest the government’s plan to dump wastewater from a paper mill into their harbor, as my colleague Jane Perlez reported. They ransacked municipal offices, overturned cars and fought with the police. Striking photos of the unrest are here.

City officials quickly announced the waste-discharge plan would be canceled. Score one, maybe, for people power.

Although there are tens of thousands of civic protests every year in China, most are small-scale, ineffectual and officially smothered. But high profile demonstrations over environmental issues are occurring with more regularity, size, violence and political oomph — in Dalian (a petrochemical plant), in Zuotan (land grabs) and earlier this month in Shifang (a heavy-metals smelter). Deadly floods and a feeble government response in Beijing last week also led to a huge outcry online.

Elizabeth C. Economy, a senior fellow and director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that all over China now “citizens are making their voices heard on the Internet and their actions felt on the streets.”

In a piece on the council’s Asia Unbound blog, she said that Li Yuanchao, one of China’s most powerful leaders and a presumptive candidate for the Standing Committee of the Politburo, recently lectured Communist Party officials that they should “understand and comply with the will of the people.”

His message is one that has been often delivered by party bosses, “apparently to little effect,” Ms. Economy said.

As one microblogger said of the bloody Shifang protests this month: “The government has repeatedly squandered the people’s patience. It is time for us to be independent.” As we reported on Rendezvous at the time, the police warned that anyone using the Internet, cellphones or text messages to spread news about the protest would be “severely punished.”

A university student from Beijing, Yueran Zhang, says in a thoughtful essay published Sunday on Tea Leaf Nation that public skepticism and online rumor-swapping have become the new normal in China whenever government officials are confronted with crises.

Government response to a recent deadly shopping mall fire, for example, “exacerbated netizen rumors and doubts,” Mr. Zhang says. Government officers shunted journalists away from hospital interviews with the injured, and lawyers needed official permission before giving interviews.

“Those measures led to the inevitable online speculation,” Mr. Zhang says, “that government was concealing a terrible truth.”

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Filed under activism, censorship, environment, protests