Two weeks ago, chinadialogue published Tang Hao’s article “Shifang: a crisis of local rule”, which investigated two key trends seen in the recent environmental protests: the crisis of local governance and the rise of public participation.
On July 28, environmental protests broke out once again, with mass unrest in the city of Qidong in east China’s Jiangsu province.
According to reports from Radio France Internationale and Australia’s ABC radio network, thousands of Qidong residents gathered in the early hours of Saturday morning in the square in front of city hall, and in the surrounding streets. The residents were protesting about a planned waste-water pipeline from a local paper factory run by Japan’s Oji Paper Group. Before police arrived, the protesters ransacked the government offices; seizing bottles of liquor and wine, boxes of cigarettes, and other valuables frequently received by officials as bribes, which they displayed in front of the town hall for the crowds to see.
Paramilitary police arrived at the scene at 9am to maintain order. Although some protesters resorted to violence – overturning cars, smashing computers in the government offices – the police in this instance showed relative restraint.
During the clashes, Qidong’s party secretary, Sun Jianhua, had his clothing ripped off by the crowd, and the mayor, Xu Feng, was forced to wear a T-shirt sporting anti-Oji slogans. Despite this, the Qidong leadership did not call on the police to resort to further measures. By the afternoon, the crowd of thousands that had stormed the government offices had all dispersed. Police cordoned off the area and the protests subsided.
The same morning, the government backed down.
A spokesperson from Nantong City Government, which administers Qidong City, announced the city government’s decision to permanently cease all work on the Oji Paper waste pipeline project.
Within just one day, the “Qidong Incident” was brought to an end.
The incident was widely covered in the national press, with journalists calling for greater government transparency but also criticising the violence of the protestors. The People’s Daily concluded that “The people must exercise reason, but the government must also exercise transparency”.
Meanwhile, a Zaobao editorial cautioned: “The people’s intense opposition demonstrated the strength of people power, but at the same time displayed its violent side. Raiding property, tearing clothes, forcing people to wear slogans; as some netizens have put it: this style of protest is scarily reminiscent of the actions of “rebels” during the Cultural Revolution.”
Translated by chinadialogue volunteer Charlotte Foster