Protest Over Plant Shows Citizen Pressure on China

The recent train crash in Wenzhou showed the power of social media in China and its ability to overwhelm the traditional censorship mechanisms. The protests against a chemical factory in Dalian – which ultimately achieved their goal of having the plant closed – provide another crucial example of how the Internet is changing the dynamics between the rulers and the ruled in China. From the New York Times:

In the aftermath of a large protest on Sunday in a major metropolis in northeast China, Dalian, that craving for rigid orderliness appears increasingly ephemeral. In the face of ever more sophisticated efforts to control and guide expression, significant protests — and visceral public shows of unhappiness with government — appear to be becoming regular features of life.

By official estimates, 12,000 demonstrators marched in Dalian — by other estimates, many more — to demand the removal of the expensive new Fujia chemical factory, whose Pacific coast sea wall had been breached a week earlier in a typhoon. The plant makes paraxylene, a toxic chemical used to make polyester products. It can cause illness and, if concentrated, death.

The mostly peaceful protest was one of the largest reported in nearly three years. It included the extraordinary scene of the city’s Communist Party secretary standing atop a car, pleading with demonstrators to go home and promising to close and move the $1.5 billion plant. Some responded by demanding a date.

China’s embrace of wireless communications — first cellphone text messages, then Internet chat rooms and Twitterlike microblogs — has fueled such protests, allowing the disaffected to share grievances in a way never before possible. Dalian’s protesters flooded microblogs with photos, reposting them as fast as censors could delete them.

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