Sunday 14 August 2011

Dalian Protests Scrubbed From (Digital) Existence

Fresh from David Bandurski's excellent China Media Project, a striking example of exactly why even talking about "whether it would be right" to stop people communicating via social messaging is playing with fire:

"Posts began appearing earlier today on Chinese social media sites, most notably Sina Microblog (Weibo), saying that a mass demonstration was happening in the northern city of Dalian to oppose a chemical plant that has been placed near residential areas. Posts were quickly controlled, however, and now all related material is being scrubbed from the internet. . ."

So what was this demonstration about? Here's the BBC:

"Authorities in the north-eastern Chinese city of Dalian have ordered the closure of a chemical plant after a mass protest over pollution.

Scuffles had broken out on Sunday between police and thousands of protesters calling for it to be moved.

Officials ordered the plant's closure "immediately" and pledged to relocate it, state news agency Xinhua said.

Last week a storm broke the dyke around the plant, sparking fears the paraxylene (PX) it makes could spill.

PX is used in fabric manufacture and can be highly toxic.

About 12,000 residents took part in the protest, some of them moving across the city chanting slogans and waving banners."

The scale of these protests can be assessed from the pictures coming out via Weibo like the one above - and at the very least involved several thousand people.

Of course, it should be remembered that these marches pose no direct threat to the government, and are instead aimed pretty squarely at Fujia PX. However, at least some in power will be concerned by the ease with which many thousands of people were able to mobilise using social media to take part in what was a peaceful, but unauthorised demonstration.

I am still not convinced, though, that this is the kind of came changer that some, Custer at China Geeks for example, make it out to be. When it comes right down to it, if communication over Weibo does start to cause problems, the government can and will simply pull the plug on it.

[Picture: Thousands march to demand the closing down of the Fujia PX chemical plant in the city of Dalian in Eastern China. By Weibo user Zhaodongling, via CMP]


justrecently said...

I think that many people inside and outside China underestimate the party's determination to cling to power. If terror needs to be added to technical measures, I'm sure the politbureau (no matter if the current or the incoming members) will agree to whatever it takes to keep in control of the situation.

Anonymous said...

I caught this report on BBC last night, but the CMP photos certainly add a whole new dimension to the event. BBC reported 10,000 but judging by some of the photos, this was a much bigger demo.

If winners are grinners, the party just might meet its match with people power social media during the next few years. Also, cadres are sufficiently pragmatic and know when to fold their hand.

On second thought, this was a quality of life issue and not a direct political challenge.


Gilman Grundy said...

All the same, this really came together quite quickly, apparently without the authorities being in a position to stop it happening. As we saw in the UK, peaceful demonstrations don't always end peacefully (even if the authorities want them to).

That said, I agree with JR, if it starts to get out of hand, the government will crack down hard, and the people in its path will not like the results.

Anonymous said...

Just for the record, I have no doubt that the authorities would go for the TM solution, if power appeared to shift from the party to the citizenry in a very concrete manner.

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