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Rare Protest in Beijing Against Express Train Catches China by Surprise

A rare protest took place in downtown Beijing on December 9, 2012 against the construction of the Shenyang-Beijing Express Rail line which cuts across the downtown area of Chaoyang district. Although freedom of assembly is protected by the Chinese constitution, in most circumstances authorities suppress citizen-initiated demonstrations. This time, however, the protest seems to have been approved by Beijing's authorities and the story was even widely reported in major media outlets. Sina Weibo, a government endorsed social media platform for public deliberation, even initiated a “topical discussion forum” on the issue. Some netizens wonder if this is a sign of political reform following the 18th CCP Congress new leadership.

Around 300 protesters demonstrated in Chaoyang district demanding the route of the Shenyang-Beijing line be changed. The protest was in reaction to a report by the Ministry of Environmental Protection [zh] which claims that 37.27% Beijing residents supported, while 24.01% opposed the planned express train route which cuts across a number of highly dense residential districts in Beijing's downtown area. Many residents claimed that they had not done any survey and were outraged by the result.

Below is a copy of the video at Tecent QQ video platform [zh] showing the orderly protest scene, which was quite organized with common slogans such as, “Against fake environmental assessment”, “Forced to agree”, and “Against the Express Rail passing by people's front door”.

Major domestic media outlets picked up the news quickly as described by Weibo user Sohu74 [zh]:

两个白天一夜之间,京沈高铁沿线居民理性维权的新闻和图片成了国内各大媒体争相转载的焦点,这变化突如其来,就好像你突然中了大奖有点儿不敢想象,不知所措。昨天听到维持秩序的一位民警说到这样一句话“戴眼镜的也能搞这事儿?”另一位民警则劝说维权群众“按序通行,别真的把路堵了,那就违法了。”

Within one night, the rational defense of the rights of residents along the Shenyang-Beijing railway line has become the focus of major domestic media outlets. The change is so sudden as if you have won a lottery. It is really hard to imagine and give response. Yesterday I overheard some conversation among police officers. A police officer asked “How come those with glasses [meaning those with good education background] also joined the demonstration?” Another police officer told the protesters: “please keep  order, don't block the road or it will be illegal.”

Manipulating surveys is quite common in mainland China. What most people found surprising is that Chaoyang residents were allowed to protest in downtown Beijing. Reymon a finance analyst exclaimed [zh] on his micro-blog:

在首都北京,抗议高铁项目的集会,竟然获得批准并举行。意义不一般!

In Beijing, the capital of China, a public assembly against Express Train project was approved. This is something really significant!

His brief comment has attracted more than 2000 comments [zh], some echoed, some doubted:

心安得理:如若真实党国还有一丝转机,好!

心安得理:If this is real, the party-state maybe able to transform. This is good.

亚洲陶瓷商城:十八大其中一个主要的议题 就是 “自由”吧?

亚洲陶瓷商城:A major topic in the 18th National Communist Party Congress is “freedom”, right?

帝都日记:十日,晴。帝都再开先例。坊间传,有民众申请集会抗议高铁线路,竟获衙门准许。天朝集会,一向只分官方公开组织和官方私下组织两种。民众自发集会,无论缘由,历为所禁。此乃群体事件不断之根由。胡同苏秀才道,如若公民集会合法化常态化,将成官府真正制约,为民主进程重大一步,对国之未来影响深远。

帝都日记:December 10th. Sunny. First time for the empire. Story from the street: the police has approved the anti-express railway protest. According to the empire tradition, there are two kinds of assemblies, one is publicly organized by the government, one is privately organized by the government. Spontaneous organization is banned regardless of its nature. That's why there are so many mass incidents. Public intellectuals say, if citizen's assembly is becoming a norm, the government's authority will be restrained and this is a step towards democracy. It will have big impact to the future development of the country.

渴学家:好事来的太多, 注意反弹.

渴学家:too many good things happen will result in bounce back.

未曾顿悟已经年:进步但愿不会昙花一现!

未曾顿悟已经年:hope such progress will not vanish quickly.

老虎啸山林:我们因拆迁集体上诉,游行申请五年了也未获批啊。

老虎啸山林:We applied for demonstration against forced demolition five years ago, nothing has been approved yet.

livelife在唱歌:太阳从西边出来了。

livelife在唱歌:The sun rises from the West.

亮中华之剑:中央关于宪法的实施表态了,看来政府真的开始了改革,应该坚决捍卫宪法的尊严!

亮中华之剑:This is a gesture made by the central government on the constitution. It seems that the government is ready to reform and protect constitutional rights.

 

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