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

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers 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.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More