Hundreds of residents marched along a street on the outskirts of Shanghai on May 11, 2013 to oppose plans for a lithium battery plant, marking the country’s second protest in a week over potential environmental pollution.
Earlier this week, Global Voices reported on a similar protest in the western city of Kunming, where thousands of people gathered in protest of a chemical refinery that the local government plans to build.
Several thousand miles away to the east, in the Songjiang district of China’s financial hub Shanghai, angry protesters ventured out on a weekend with banners in hand, and one goal in mind—to drive out any plant project that could damage their livelihood.
Residents worry the lithium plant would cause heavy metal pollution in an area that provides much of the drinking water to the city of 20 million.
Images circulating on the Twitter-like website Sina Weibo showed a presence of uniformed police and many protesters punching their fists in the air while chanting slogans.
Prior to the Saturday’s protest in Shanghai, online activism already began to build at the end of last month, resulting in sporadic protests in the city. A Youtube video purportedly shot on May 1, 2013 showed large deployment of police trying to disperse people who gathered on the street. One police officer shouted via loudspeaker that “it’s illegal to demonstrate”.
China’s decades of breakneck economic growth has benefited the growing middle class, but public health is reeling. A study by the Health Effects Institute and several other partner organizations, including the World Health Organization, found that 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010 in China were linked to air pollution.
With environmental problems only getting worse in the country, the affluent and Internet-savvy middle class in China has become more vocal about pollution in their backyards thanks to burgeoning social media on which they air their grievances, despite frequent online censorship.
That means the government sometimes can’t look away in the face of mounting public pressure.
In a move to appease the angry public, the Songjiang district government had issued a notice on its official Weibo account on April 29, saying it decided to cancel all production activity in the plant, despite an earlier announcement that the plant will be safe.
Many netizens, however, remain skeptical. Some consider it as a stalling tactic by the government.
“Wojiao Qinshou Buru” from Shanghai wrote [zh] on Weibo:
#Guoxuan battery plant# What does it mean to cancel the production? Do you think we are stupid?
“Mimi Dingdong”, who moved to Shanghai five years ago, vented [zh] her frustration with government indifference:
五年前我为了家庭梦来到这里–上海松江，印象里一直认为上海是个国际化城市，公开公正，只要 凭着自己的努力一定可以在这里开始属于自己的美好生活，我努力了，终于实现在上海买一套属于自己的房子，可是天意弄人，房子还没交，得知松江引进了国轩， 看着老老小小的民众奔走，政府却无动于衷，特失望！
I came here five years ago for a family dream—Songjiang in Shanghai, in my impression, Shanghai has always been an international city known for its fairness and justice, as long as people work hard, they will have a good life, I've worked hard, and I have bought an apartment in Shanghai, but it's unfortunate that we have learned about the Guoxuan project, even though we haven't got the apartment yet. People young and old took to the street, but government just turned a blind eye, I am very disappointed!
“C Zongzhuang Huoxing” described [zh] the scene of the protest:
“Guoxuan get out of here, give me back my green Songjiang” Thousands of people chanted on Zhongshan Road of Songjiang, I don’t know how the district and city government will react after they hear this. To build such a toxic plant in Shanghai is to discard the interests of millions of people in Shanghai. It would have repercussions for generations of our grandchildren!
“Gigi Xiaoxiniu” called for [zh] more action from every Shanghai citizen:
Please repost, everyone, Guoxuan get out of Shanghai, get out of Songjiang!
“Nununi” touched [zh] on family history as a reason to protect the area:
这是我曾祖母和曾外婆小时候生长的地方，经历改朝换代历史冲刷，依旧宁静美丽。我要捍卫它，尽我的绵薄之力! 作为土生土长的松江人，大家团结起来，抵制污染，让任何有潜在污染的企业从这片净土上滚出去! ——回应今天看到的松江区关于国轩电池厂的新闻发布
This is where my great-grandmother and my grandmother spent their childhood, time has gone by but it still retains its beauty and tranquility. I must try my best safeguard it! As Songjiang locals, we need to unite, and boycott pollution, we have to drive out any enterprises that might pollute!—My response to the news briefing on Guoxuan battery in Songjiang district today.