Residents of China’s southwestern Kunming city took to the streets on May 4, 2013 to protest against the potential production of a toxic chemical at a nearby factory.
According to state media, the China National Petroleum Corporation plans to build a chemical plant in the nearby town of Anning to produce 500,000 tonnes of paraxylene (PX) used to make fabric. Close to 3,000 people gathered in the city center to protest against the dangers of a possible PX spill.
China's state media kept the news of the protest quiet, and online censors have aggressively deleted information and photos about the demonstration on popular microblogging site Sina Weibo since May 4, 2013. Many Web users switched their Weibo profile photos to an image of “Kunming PX” crossed-out to show support.
Kunming is well-known for its flowers and plants thanks to its perpetual spring-like weather. It is one of the few Chinese cities that regularly enjoy clear blue skies.
Similar protests had erupted in different cities in recent years. In 2007, thousands of people in China's eastern Xiamen city protested the construction of a PX plant. In the past two years, two large NIMBY protests erupted in Dalian and Ningbo.
One Weibo user “Boluocun Yihao” from Kunming called for [zh] more support online:
Media control, cell phone signals cut off, the police who are supposed to defend the safety of the people didn't protect the people, “XX petrochemical refinery, get out of Kunming!” We do not want milk river[a polluted river in Kunming has turned the color of milk], we do not want PM2.5 [pollution], we do not want PX. Please repost this message. Protect our mother Kunming.
Another Weibo user from Kunming criticized [zh] the media censorship:
Such a big country, yet only “Beijing Evening News” truthfully reported what happened in Kunming yesterday. It was not an original report, but quoted from NetEase. It is said that China news agency did the interview yesterday, but was forbidden to publish in the end. Xinhua News Agency or CCTV hide as far away as they can….China has no media to speak for its people. Please repost the message if you agree.
A musician from Kunming “Yinyue Xiaosun” echoed [zh] the sentiment:
Media friends in Kunming, I understand your work, just like we understand today's police. But you live in Kunming. We all love our own hometown and want our children to breathe the fresh air, don’t you?? Don’t you? Don’t you?
14 years ago, under the theme of “man and nature, marching into the 21st century”, the Kunming people ushered in the first World Expo in China with pride and excitement! 14 years later, Yunnan people had to take to the streets to fight for the environment! This is the great irony for the Kunming people!
Many Weibo users quoted [zh] a poem written by famous journalist Bai Yansong:
Soon the city will slowly become out of sight and forgotten by history. The beautiful legend will always be a legend. No one will be held responsible because the ones that should be have already left the city, and their children have already immigrated, leaving a tattered and polluted city with innocent people, a cancer area ….. this city is called Kunming.