PX Protests, Hollow Victories and Forced Demolitions

Last weekend, following an increasingly familiar pattern, protests in the coastal city of Ningbo won the promised suspension of a controversial paraxylene (PX) plant. At China Media Project, David Bandurski discussed the role of social media in amplifying protests while helping to counter the authorities’ response. One of the most interesting dynamics we see again in the Ningbo PX case is the face-off between social media and “stability preservation,” in recent years the Party’s most robust method of dealing with social instability. Rapid economic development in the absence of transparent and inclusive institutions in China has generated an upswell of social unrest. Party leaders have tried to balance this equation with massive spending on “stability preservation,” the mobilizing of domestic security forces against the population. But in some sense, social media are now upsetting this equation. Thanks largely to social media, the tactics of “stability preservation” are increasingly under scrutiny. […] Mao Zedong famously said that “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Surely, though, he never envisioned the mobile phone glaring back, the eye connected instantly to millions of others. In cases focused on local grievances, those wielding the phones may be assisted by the organisational structure of online censorship. From Melanie Lee at Reuters: Part of the reason […] is rooted in the geography of power in China: edicts on what to censor are issued from the central government in Beijing. This means provincial officials have less say over what gets cut from China’s boisterous Weibo. “If a party secretary is criticized, it is hard for them to go all the way to Beijing and say ‘please delete everything on Weibo about me’,” said Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley who founded news website China Digital Times that keeps an updated list of ...
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