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

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline 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.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

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

All About America

AppleAndroid