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China: Increasing Trend in Mass Incidents

Protests, known in Chinese as “mass incidents”, grew fiercer and more violent in 2009, while methods of protest grew in variation, says a Chinese Academy of Social Sciences researcher.

In a recent Southern Weekend article Shan Guangnai of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences analyzes new trends in “mass incidents”, an area of growing concern for the Chinese government and communist party alike.

Shan says socioeconomic tensions in 2009 led to an increase in localized protests largely instigated by local corporate reform and labor disputes, housing demolition and relocation, government expropriation of rural land, and pollution.

The characteristics of such incidents in 2009 are markedly different from years past, Shan says.  He says some noticeable trends include increases in fierceness and violence, increases in protests incited by online public opinion, labor-wage disputes, and pollution.  A catalyst culminating the matter is the public’s suspicion of formally searching out assistance and a general lack of confidence in local governments, he says.

Author of the blog Convey to Society attributes the exponential rise in mass incidents to historical problems swept under the rug during the last 30 years of development.  The author details the rapid increase in incidents in a December 2009 entry.

报告指出,今年群体性事件发生仍然保持着多发的态势,这是因为一些地方在加速发展和转型的过程当中,积累了很多历史上的矛盾和问题,这些问题得不到及时解决,造成的民怨太深。据不完全统计,1993年我国发生群体性事件0.87万起,2005年上升为8.7万起,2006年超过9万起,2008年群体性事件的数量及激烈程度都超过以往。如今,社科院学者称,今年群体性事件发生仍然保持着多发的态势。

Reports have shown mass incidents [in 2009] have maintained an increasing posture.  This is because of an accumulation of historical problems and contradictions during the course of development and transition.  These problems have not received timely resolution, causing an all too deep feeling of resentment in the people.  Based on an incomplete set of statistics, 8,700 mass incidents occurred in 1993, rising to 87 thousand in 2005, and surpassing 90 thousand in 2006.  In 2008 the level of intensity of mass incidents surpassed that of previous years.  Today social scientists claim mass incidents this year still maintain an increasing posture.

Shan Guangnai points to some of 2009’s most intense protests as evidence of a growing level of violence during such incidents.  Protests in the provinces of Hubei, Yunnan, Jilin and Henan indicate unprecedented levels of intensity.

Local resentment

An incident broke out on Jun. 17 in Shishou, Hubei Province after a controversy surrounding the death of a hotel cook swept more than ten thousand people into a protest lasting three days.  Images of the protest from a blog at zxmxd.com show hundreds of military police retreating from a large crowd of violent protesters.

The Jun. 17 incident in Shishou was a result of long-term, unresolved problems and built up tension, writes Qiu Xuebin at blogchina.com

积怨不解,后患难除…群众利益诉求长期得不到解决,民众就象一堆干柴,遇到一点火星,就会燃起熊熊烈火。网络作为出气筒,已经发泄了不少民愤了,但如果民众的现实诉求渠道不畅,矛盾和问题长期得不到解决,最终还是要从网络的虚拟世界下来走向街头。

An accumulation of unresolved resentment is difficult to get rid of once it becomes a problem.  When the interests of the people go unanswered long term, the people light up in fury like sparks on brushwood.  The internet is like an exhaust pipe, already spewing much public indignation. But if the people’s realistic means of making claims [of the government] are hindered, contradictions and problems going unanswered long term, in the end we slip out of the make-believe world that is the internet and hit the streets.

Online public opinion

In February 2009 the term “duo-mao-mao” became one of the most commonly searched words on Chinese search engines.  Originally referring to a child’s game, the term now stands for the death of a 24 year-old man who died under questionable circumstances in a local jail in Yunnan Province.

After an investigation committee yielded inconclusive results, a barrage of online indignation expressed distrust in the investigation and the local government.  Some Chinese netizens advocated violence, as described in an article at ycwb.com

Blogger Shuibin-Mengxiang dicusses the role online opinion played in the “Duo-mao-mao” incident.

云南躲猫猫”事件发生后,网络声讨的言论犹如涛天洪水般一浪卷一浪扑天而来,这再次反映出网络放大传播的无形力量,也反映出因突发事件而被动应付舆论成了地方党委政府的头疼病。这个事件带给党委政府应对网络舆论几点启示

After the Yunnan “Duo-mao-mao” incident happened, online denouncement poured in, wave after wave, like a flood that would wash away the sky.  This time and again reflects the invisible power of internet amplification.  It also shows that public opinion can become a headache for local governmental party committees due to careless handling of sudden incidents.  This incident has given party committees a few enlightening responses from online pubic opinion.

Workers’ strike

A dispute over corporate restructuring left the general manager of a steel company dead on Jul. 24 of last year.  Nearly 3000 Workers at Tonggang Group in Jilin Province engaged in violent protest, beating to death General Manager Chen Guojun after dissatisfaction with a restructuring plan.

Blogger Zhengcheng-Manman describes the incident as a “restructuring tragedy.”  In a July 2009 entry the blogger describes the incident.

一位在现场的职工描述说,陈国军要求大家结束聚集,但随后集会员工情绪失控,几个人把他拉下台后进行群殴。后来,陈国军跑到一个会议室,将门反锁,人群用暖气片将门砸开,继续殴打陈。

An employee on the scene said Chen Guojun requested an end to the gathering but the gathered workers then lost control of their emotions, a few of them pulling him from a platform and beating him.  Then Chen Guojun ran to a meeting room, locking the door.  The crowd used a heating panel to smash the door and continued beating Chen.

Displeased with severance pay, a group 400 steel workers in Henan Province protested a similar corporate reform in August of 2009, taking over the factory floor and holding a party official under duress, reports an article at Sina.com.

The Chinese Government will watch these trends carefully in 2010, in the hopes that stimulus driven development will stabilize society and slow this increase in unrest.

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