Wednesday, July 20, 2005

More Chinese Riots over Pollution

Back in April, our bloggence detected an historic innovation: angry mob riots for environmental justice in China. This is again to illustrate the point about our post-contemporary times. Welcome to your future; it just happened yesterday. And it just happened again this weekend. Another huge riot over a polluting factory.

Anger in China Rises over Threat to Environment {excerpts from the New York Times}
Protesters, who say the pharmaceuticals factory at Xinchang pollutes their water, were blocked on Monday by police barricades.

Xinchang, China - After three nights of increasingly heavy rioting, the police were taking no chances on Monday, deploying dozens of busloads of officers before dusk and blocking every road leading to the factory.

But the angry residents in this village 180 miles south of Shanghai had learned their lessons, too, they said, having studied reports of riots in towns near and far that have swept rural China in recent months. Sneaking over mountain paths and wading through rice paddies, they made their way to a pharmaceuticals plant, they said, determined to pursue a showdown over the environmental threat they say it poses.

As many as 15,000 people massed here Sunday night and waged a pitched battle with the authorities, overturning police cars and throwing stones for hours, undeterred by thick clouds of tear gas. Fewer people may have turned out Monday evening under rainy skies, but residents of this factory town in the wealthy Zhejiang Province vow they will keep demonstrating until they have forced the 10-year-old plant to relocate.

"This is the only way to solve problems like ours," said a 22-year-old villager whose house sits less than 100 yards from the smashed gates of the factory, where the police were massed. "If you go to see the mayor or some city official, they just take your money and do nothing."

The riots in Xinchang are a part of a rising tide of discontent in China, with the number of mass protests like these skyrocketing to 74,000 incidents last year from about 10,000 a decade earlier, according to government figures.

In Xinchang, however, residents say new technology, like the cellphone, has played little part. Instead, many residents say they were moved to action after years of unhappiness about industrial pollution by copies of newspaper headlines from Dongyang. That city, a mere 50 miles away, was the scene this spring of one of China's biggest riots, in which more than 10,000 residents routed the police in a riot over pollution from a pesticide factory.

Despite tight controls on news coverage of the incident, the riot in Dongyang, where the chemical factory remains closed months later, has firmly entered Chinese folklore as proof that determined citizens acting en masse can force the authorities to reverse course and address their needs.

"As for the Dongyang riot, everyone knows about it," a man in his 20's exulted. "Six policemen were killed, and the chief had the tendons in his arms and legs severed. Perhaps they went too far, but we must be treated as human beings."

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See previous bloggence on this topic:

Environmental Justice Mobs in China

Tourists Admire Village Rebellion

Violent Protest against pollution in China


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