Discontent and protest are on the rise across China. Zhou Yongkang, China’s Minister of Public Security, reported recently that in 2004 there were 74,000 “mass incidents” – demonstrations, riots and other acts of civil disobedience. That’s an average of 200 a day; a worrisome number for China’s leaders, who, at a plenary session of the Chinese Communist Party last week, reaffirmed their calls to build a “harmonious society.” If the leaders put so much emphasis on social harmony, why does unrest persist?
The short answer, say Chinese officials, is the divide between rich and poor, and especially the growing unhappiness among farmers and other peasants who have been left behind by China’s rapid economic development. But this is only a partial explanation.