Ministry of Tofu has a writeup and pictures from a riot in Chaozhou, Guangdong province. It’s important to remember that by the numbers, the greatest share of protests and riots belongs not to any of the ethnic minorities, but to laborers and migrant workers. Soaring wealth inequality has left many of them standing still at a time when they can see other Chinese sprinting forward, and their calls for a bigger slice of the pie typically fall on deaf ears. On this latest incident:
It was started by a hideous act of violence on a migrant worker. On June 1, 18-year-old worker Xiong Hanjiang from Sichuan province went with his parents to Huayi Porcelain Factory in the town Guxiang, Chaozhou city in southern Guangzhou province and asked the employer for his past due wages. During the process, Xiong Hanjiang got into a fight with Su, the factory owner. Su hit Xiong’s head with a wooden stool and ordered his underlings to cut Xiong’s wrists and ankles and cripple him.
Three suspects, including Su, were arrested by the police on the 5th. However, according to a microblog post, instead of penalizing or incriminating them, police released some of them after receiving US$460 as hush money. Indignant, Xiong’s family called on 200 of their fellow provincials who also worked in the town of Guxiang to gather at the town hall. The local government officials did not respond to the anger of the migrant workers. As a result, the 200 migrant workers vented their furor on the cars and small businesses nearby. Three cars were wrecked, one was set on fire and burnt. Nine of the mob were taken away by the police.
According to Hong Kong-based Apple Daily, until yesterday, migrant workers wandered on the streets of Guxiang, burning stores, smashing cars and hitting innocent people. Martial law has been imposed on the entire town until 14th. Schools have been closed, industrial production halted. Ordinary people mostly stayed home. The few men who did go out were armed with batons. Guxiang became a ghost town. Rumor even has it that migrant workers and provincials would detonate gas stations.
These labor disputes are yet another problem that could be solved by providing Chinese citizens with a way to settle disputes according to the law. Incidents like this will continue until such avenues are made available to them. Oh, and providing Chinese citizens with legal protection against violence would make it less likely that factory owners would see “cripple discontent workers” as a viable solution.