Chinese protests against injustice


On November 6, quoting the Ministry of Public Security, the official Xinhua News Agency proudly announced there were only 17,900 "mass incidents" — Beijing's term for mass protests — in the first nine months of 2006. Xinhua said it represented a drop of 22% from the same period last year.

The ministry revealed in January that there were 87,000 mass incidents in 2005, up from 58,000 in 2003 and 74,000 in 2004 after an uninterrupted rise from 10,000 in 1994. The ministry's definition of "mass incidents" has never been spelled out. Presuming its definition for 2006 is consistent with that for previous years, the bulk of last year's mass protests happened in the final quarter of the year. For the 2003 protest figures, the ministry reported more than 3 million people took part in the "incidents, but no comparable figures were produced for this year.

Details on protests in China are harder to obtain since Beijing tightened restrictions a few months ago on "cross-territorial" reporting by the domestic media. While the media in a particular locality are tightly controlled by the local authorities, media from other provinces were, until recently, able to file more in-depth and timely reports on some protest actions. An August 1 New Internationalist article by the Committee to Protect Journalists' Kristin Jones said that the new measures have had "a profound impact" on protest reports on China.

Some of the recent protests that slipped through the official ban included riots by up to 10,000 students during October 21-October 24 in Nanchang and Ganzhou in Jiangxi province. Students were angered by a new rule that could downgrade academic qualifications from private institutes at which they are enrolled. The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy reported that the students smashed vehicles and set fire to campus buildings. Some 2000 of the students were Uighurs, an ethnic minority in Xinjiang, China's rebellious autonomous region in the far west.

On November 8, some 4000 disgruntled villagers stormed an opening ceremony of a grain storage facility in Shunde, Guangdong province, preventing 300 guests from leaving. The guests were released the next morning after riot police assaulted the barricade with hundreds of rounds of teargas. Villagers complained that the local government short-changed them on compensation for the forcible acquisition of their land. They suspect corruption by officials handling the case and had been petitioning over their grievances for over a year.

On November 10, some 2000 people rioted after the death of the three-year-old child at Guang'an City No. 2 People's Hospital, Sichuan province. The child was taken there after swallowing farming chemicals. The boy's family alleged that the hospital refused to treat the boy because they couldn't afford the full fee demanded by the hospital. At a November 11 press conference, hospital officials insisted that the boy had been given prompt treatment, irrespective of the delay in payment.

The boy's family was able to attract widespread sympathy because since China began dismantling its previously world-renowned public health-care system in the 1980s in favour of a privatised system, proper health care is beyond the reach of most families. China's escalating pro-capitalist "reforms" have increased corruption and resulted in widespread illegal land acquisitions and environmental devastation, some of the main causes of social protests in the country over the last decade.