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

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid