Large-scale local protests erupting more often in China's hinterlands

From Jonathan Lassen <>
Date Mon, 25 Oct 2004 22:43:12 -0500
User-agent Mozilla Thunderbird 0.6 (Windows/20040502)

Large-scale local protests erupting more often in China's hinterlands
Knight Ridder | 25 oct
by Tim Johnson

BEIJING - Vexed local officials in towns and cities across China are 
struggling to contain large public demonstrations that are erupting at a 
seemingly quickening pace.

The protests, often local in nature, don't challenge the 55-year rule of 
the Communist Party. But they underscore the intensity of local 
grievances as the gap between rich and poor yawns wider, land disputes 
soar, inflation picks up and anger at corruption deepens.

Serious disturbances have rocked at least three cities and townships in 
October, and security forces reportedly opened fire on demonstrators to 
calm one uprising, wounding dozens.

The most recent protest erupted Friday in Bengbu, a small city in Anhui 
province, in eastern central China. More than 10,000 workers and 
pensioners blocked roads in a demonstration that lasted three days, 
according to China Labor Watch, a New York-based advocacy group.

Protesters complained about inadequate health care and the failure of a 
pension system to index payouts to rising consumer prices, the group 
said in a bulletin.

China's inflation has surged this year, especially for food and energy. 
On Monday, authorities said the consumer price index rose 5.2 percent in 
September over a year earlier, with grain prices shooting up 31.7 
percent. So far this year, gasoline prices have risen 17 percent. 
Economists expect inflation to dip by the end of the year.

China Labor Watch said workers from a textile factory, a printing plant 
and a compressor factory took part in the demonstration, as well as 
numerous retirees. "Their pension has been eroded and cannot keep up 
with rising prices," the bulletin said.

A worker who answered the telephone at the compressor factory demurred 
when asked about the protest: "It is difficult to answer your questions. 
It can't be published."

Chinese newspapers and television networks generally quash any mention 
of regional protests. Even so, Chinese increasingly stay informed 
through unconventional means, including e-mail and short written 
messages via mobile telephones.

Some 80 million Chinese regularly use the Internet. Another 1.25 million 
sign up for cellular phones each week, bringing the number of Chinese 
users to 296 million.

Last week, rioters in Wanzhou, an industrial city along the Yangtze 
River near Chongqing, overturned police cars and went on a looting spree 
after a quarrel in a fruit market. At one point, crowds swelled to 
20,000. The quarrel reportedly intensified when one of the parties tried 
to pass himself off as a government official, seeking to settle the 
dispute in his favor.

Average Chinese increasingly simmer at such abuses of privilege.

The third large-scale disturbance broke out near Yulin in Shaanxi 
province, abutting Inner Mongolia. On Oct. 4, riot police swept into the 
village of Sanchawan and arrested 32 people among hundreds of villagers 
protesting what they termed an illegal land grab by local officials.

"The police opened fire. More than 50 peasants were wounded. At least 27 
were seriously wounded," a resident of the region, Chen Zhongfa, wrote 
in an e-mail to foreign news outlets in Beijing.

Any such shooting to crush disturbances would be extremely rare. China's 
rulers are still trying to overcome the fallout from the Tiananmen 
Square massacre on June 4, 1989, when troops killed hundreds, if not 
thousands, of protesters in and near Beijing's central square, quelling 
demands for greater democracy in China.

The Shaanxi dispute erupted when a relocation plan forced some 15,000 
peasants off their land to make way for a municipal economic-development 
zone. Compensation to the peasants was tiny. Local officials resold the 
land for huge profits, Chen wrote.

An annual report to Congress issued earlier this month by a U.S. 
governmental body, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, 
noted that land requisitions and unfair compensation schemes are fueling 
a wave of protests across China.

"Farmers end up landless and, once they have exhausted their small 
subsidies, unemployed and without a source of income," the report said. 
It noted that central government authorities last year tallied "more 
than 178,000 illegal or irregular land transactions." Two months ago, 
Beijing suspended work on 4,800 illegal development zones, the report said.

Central government officials have grown alarmed by the unrest over rural 
land confiscations, seeing landless, unemployed peasants as a source of 
social instability.