China’s Slow Civil Awakening

Jonathan Fenby writes in the Guardian:

Zhang Hong’s contribution to Cif makes clear the extent of the consumer crisis set off by the large scale contamination of milk powder in China. At latest count more than 6,000 babies have been affected and four have died. Now reports say that the chemical melamine has also been found in drinks and yoghurt sold by major firms in the country’s fragmented but fast-growing milk industry.

Coming after the rash of food scandals in the People’s Republic last year, this presents the authorities with the latest in a series of rolling major challenges that have marked what was meant to be a trouble-free Olympics year – the big freeze in central-southern China in January-February, the riots in Tibet in March, the Sichuan earthquake in May plus a string of natural and man-made disasters.

Behind the calamities, there are signs of change in Beijing. Though they hold one-party power, the country’s leaders know that they have to respond to popular concerns in ways that were not the case in the first decades of communist rule.

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