CRF Blog

Unrest in China

by David De La Torre

A recent protest in the village of Wukan in Guangdong was typical of the thousands that occur every year in the Chinese countryside. This time, however, in a December stand-off between police and residents, the people of Wukan took over their village; they drove out the party hacks and police. Chinese officials were alarmed by the images posted and viewed on weibo — the Chinese version of Twitter. In A dangerous year, The Economist looks at how economic conditions and social media are fostering more protests in China.

IN AN industrial zone near Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in south-west China, a sign colourfully proclaims the sprawl of factories to be a “delightful, harmonious and happy district”. Angry steelworkers must have winced as they marched past the slogan in their thousands in early January, demanding higher wages. Their three-day strike was unusually large for an enterprise owned by the central government. But, as China’s economy begins to grow more sedately, more such unrest is looming.

China’s state-controlled media kept quiet about the protest that began on January 4th in Qingbaijiang District, a 40-minute drive north-east of Chengdu on an expressway that crosses a patchwork of vegetable fields and bamboo thickets. But news of the strike quickly broke on the internet. Photographs circulated on microblogs of a large crowd of workers from Pangang Group Chengdu Steel and Vanadium being kept away from a slip road to the expressway by a phalanx of police. Word spread that police had tried to disperse the workers with tear gas. In the end, as they tend to — and undoubtedly acting on government orders—factory officials backed down, partially at least. The workers got a raise, albeit a smaller one than they wanted. Managers’ wages were frozen.

 Strikes have become increasingly frequent at privately owned factories in recent years, often involving workers demanding higher wages or better conditions. [more]