The violence, one of the most marked instances of social unrest to grip China in recent months, was sparked by government plans to relocate the city of Longnan’s administrative center after May’s devastating earthquake, according to the Xinhua news agency.
State-run press has reported on numerous pickets and demonstrations that have broken out across China in recent weeks, including a two-day strike by disgruntled taxi drivers in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing.
Earlier this month, a crowd of 400 in the southern boomtown of Zhenzhen threw stones and set fire to a police car after officers tried to stop a motorcyclist at a checkpoint. The cyclist fled and was killed when he hit a lamppost.
Joshua Rosenzweig of the Duihua Foundation points out that instances of social unrest are likely to increase at the global financial crisis hits China. He tells the LA Times:
“I don’t think we’re even close to seeing the real impact of the global financial crisis on Chinese society. I’d be surprised if the government wasn’t very concerned about the increasing level of social unrest all over China.”
Chinese economists say that rising wages throughout China have led many laborers to expect better working conditions and residents to demand more accountable government. “The local government has become the front line of conflict,” said Hu Xingdou, an economics professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology.
Following this line of thought, in a related article in the New Republic, Joshua Kurlantzick explored how the economic downturn may impact China’s political situation:
This unrest is likely to spiral. As the Chinese economy sours for the first time in years, the government this week announced a $586 billion stimulus package. But in some ways, much more is at stake: While, in the U.S., a financial failure would simply mean another dent in George W. Bush’s reputation, in China it could mean the breakdown of the entire political order.
Update: John Pomfret also comments on these issues on his Washington Post blog:
The main reason for China’s current troubles is that Western economies — caught in their own recessions — aren’t buying like they did before. Some 10,000 factories are shuttered in southern China. Factory bosses are jumping over walls and fleeing China and their debts. More than 1 million people have lost their jobs over the last few months in one province of the country alone.
But there are other reasons, too. Many Chinese are fed up with country’s endemic corruption and the sense that “social contract” that their now dead leader Deng Xiaoping hashed out for them after he engineered the June 4th crackdown in 1989 — you all have a fair shot at getting rich as long as you don’t challenge the party’s authority — is breaking down.
Protests, some of them violent, are erupting throughout the country. State-run media, which usually ignores these things, has taken to reporting a number of them. To me that signals not that state-run media has suddenly turned professional but that the problem is of such proportions that ignoring it would be more laughable than acknowledging it.
Reuters has more details of the Gansu riot in a report titled, “China Seeks to Curb Unrest Amid Finance Crisis“:
Local residents contacted by Reuters said calm had returned to the city on Wednesday and blamed heavy-handed police for inflaming the riots, which they said had involved more than 10,000 people.
“Actually, there were only a few thousand petitioners, but police fired tear gas which made women and children sick. This made the others angry,” a local hotel worker, who declined to give his name, told Reuters by telephone.
[…] Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu said police “should be fully aware of the challenge brought by the global financial crisis and try their best to maintain social stability,” the China Daily quoted him as saying.
Read the China Daily dispatch, “Petitioners unrest ‘under control’ in Gansu.”
See footage of the riot on YouTube: