Widespread protests alarm Beijing

Issue 

By Eva Cheng Social discontent is rising in China, in such an alarming way that Beijing has reportedly put its entire state machinery on the alert to contain or crush it. The Cheng Ming magazine, published in Hong Kong, has a reputation of being well connected in China. It reports that a national working conference of the Communist Party of China in August was told that more than 485,000 people had been mobilised around the country in the first six months of this year in 3739 public actions — 1951 strikes and 1788 protests. Sichuan province, where top leader Deng Xiaoping comes from, topped the list with 145 strikes and 121 protests during the period, followed by Xinjiang, where most of China's nuclear tests have taken place, with 127 strikes and 120 protests. What the protests were about was not revealed. Such outbreaks were most common in the poorer provinces, with between 150 and 200 incidents in each of them. They decreased as the provinces move up the affluence ladder to 60 in Jiangsu and 64 in Zhejiang. Figures on individual cities were given only confined for the top three: 19 in Beijing, 14 in Tianjin and 12 in Shanghai. Party or government offices were attacked on 35 occasions, and clashes with the police or the army took place 38 times. The meeting was told there was bloodshed in some clashes, which had led to "serious consequences", but no further details were provided. Nor was it revealed how many people were arrested. Workers seemed to have played a significant role in the actions, sufficiently so for party president Jiang Zemin to take special note of them. Cheng Ming quoted him as saying at the August meeting: "We have to be acutely alert to the importance of the work among workers. We can't afford any chaos among them, nor to let them go astray. The reason why the country did not disintegrated during the Cultural Revolution was because most of them had not been thrown into chaos." Jiang was also quoted as saying that the 1989 protests in China had not turned into anything more disastrous because most workers were not involved, warning that the country could be paralysed and if they do become involved. Premier Li Peng reportedly told the meeting that any "counter-revolutionary" riots or chaos would be firmly blocked and crushed. There were no indications that the meeting went into the social causes which might have triggered the protests, but it did note that quite a lot of problems arose from the corruption and abuse of power by party cadres. However, a joint national survey by the China Social Sciences Academy and the State Statistical Bureau last year shed light on the popular discontent. Of the 20,000 people interviewed in 27 cities in 10 provinces, 84% named inflation as the dominant reason that people rebelled. The respondents believed workers and peasants were the most disadvantaged under the pro-capitalist economic reforms embarked upon by Deng Xiaoping in 1978, with 50% of them convinced that private entrepreneurs reap most benefits. A high proportion of respondents picked the self-employed, party cadres and state entrepreneurs as the other prime beneficiaries. Quoting Revenue Department statistics, the pro-Beijing Wen Wei Bao in Hong Kong reported in March worsening social polarisation in China, with less than 3% of the population holding 28% of private savings which totalled 290 billion yuan. It also reported there were, in yuan, well over 1 million millionaires in China. Last year, the Beijing Review gave the number of poverty-stricken people in China as at least 80 million. They had an annual income of less than 300 yuan, and therefore lacked adequate food and clothing.

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