News / Asia

China's Leaders Increasingly Challenged by Social Unrest

Over the past year, China’s leadership has faced growing eruptions of public discontent over issues ranging from environmental and transportation safety concerns, to labor disputes and local corruption.

Consider the scene in the southeastern fishing village of Wukan, where hundreds of residents, young and old, raise their fists and voices calling for justice and chanting slogans such as the “Blood debt must be paid” and “Return our farm land.”

For months, Wukan residents have been protesting, denouncing local officials they say are corrupt and demanding the return of farm land they say was illegally seized for development.

The protests peaked in December when one of the town’s representatives, Xue Jinpo, died in police custody. Residents took control of Wukan, forcing Communist Party officials to flee and police to cordon off the village. Chinese authorities say Xue died of heart failure, but residents suspect foul play.

Such land grab protests, as they are called, are increasingly common in China. But the situation in Wukan highlights just how far some are willing to go.

Hu Xingdou, a professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology, says that if authorities do not take steps to address the public’s discontent, the unrest could get worse.

"One aspect that makes this a matter of high priority for the central government is that China has entered into a very risky period, not just one of an average risk level," said Hu. "I'm afraid that if the central government doesn't put some measures in place in the next five years or so, the whole
of China could go out of control."

Simmering issues

And it’s not just land disputes Chinese citizens are protesting.

In October, protestors in the central city of Zhili, in Zhejiang province, flipped over cars, smashed public property and clashed with police during a dispute over taxes.

Scenes of the standoff caught on video showed hundreds out in the streets, and later scores of baton and shield-wielding police chasing off protesters.

Chinese economist Luo Xiaopeng says President Hu Jintao has done very little over the past 10 years to control local authorities, and that China now faces a crisis of governance. He believes this will top the agenda of Vice President Xi Jinping when he takes over for Mr. Hu next year.

“All of these environmental issues, education issues, public servant issues, have been accumulating for more than a decade, so it’s not just now," said Luo. "But I think that everybody realizes the crisis is coming, and the new leadership has to deal with it.”

Fears of an economic slowdown next year are also a big concern, says Bonnie Glaser, a China analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“The Chinese leadership is, I think, very insecure at home, very worried about the domestic situation, the slowdown of the economy, and signs of growing unrest and uneasiness and this could get worse as the economic situation deteriorates," Glaser said.

A restless middle class

China’s booming economic growth over the past decade has swollen the ranks of the middle class, and they, too, are growing restless.

This is one of the Chinese government’s biggest concerns going forward, says Barry Naughton, an economist at University of California San Diego.

“They are not out on the streets throwing rocks through windows, but there is, I think, a sense of restlessness that is significant because these are the well educated people, they are concentrated in cities, they have a lot of skills and a lot of capabilities,” said Naughton.

In August, thousands of residents of the northeastern city of Dalian took to the streets. The protest, widely seen as a middle class uprising, called for the closure of a chemical plant. In the end, authorities gave in and agreed to shut down and relocate the plant.

The online factor

The Internet and social media helped to drive that protest, as it did with a nationwide uproar over a high-speed rail accident in July,

In Dalian, pictures and videos of the protest were posted online and the Internet was used to help organize the rally. In the aftermath of the train wreck, which left 41 people dead, China’s Twitter-like Weibo microblog not only documented details of those involved in the tragedy, but became a posting board for complaints about the government's response and broader concerns about incompetence.

Although China heavily censors the Internet, and critical or controversial postings are quickly removed, authorities remain anxious about what is said online, says Bonnie Glaser.

"At least once a day, and I’ve heard from some people that [it’s] twice a day, the Chinese leadership gets a list of what the most popular topics are that are being discussed on the Internet and the Chinese blogosphere."

In the wake of the train wreck, authorities have increased scrutiny of microblogs and stepped up efforts to control the spread of what they call "online rumors."

But as the protests in Wukan, Zhili and Dalian have shown, authorities are finding it increasingly difficult to keep a lid on everything.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs