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China: This week's mass incidents

Categories: East Asia, China, Breaking News, Development, Digital Activism, Economics & Business, Elections, Environment, Freedom of Speech, Health, Protest

Still several months to go until the Olympics, yet just the past few days have seen a number of unrelated mass incidents [1] take place around the country, from the large protest at the Tianmen [2] Party headquarters and a taxi driver strike in solidarity [3] following the the recent beating to death [4] of a local business leader, to the anti-Maglev neighborhood protests that have taken place in downtown Shanghai [5] over the past few days, videos of which have been posted on YouTube by users ubuoo3 [6], qsommerville [7] and tooodou [8].

Speaking of the Beijing Olympics, or rather its theme song, ‘We Are Ready’ [9], more than ten thousand people marched [10] in Hong Kong on January 13 calling for universal suffrage [11] starting with election of the Chief Executive in 2012:

Back to Hubei [12] province, the Shiyan city bus company has been on strike since Jan. 12, bringing the prefecture-level city to a halt in the midst of a heavy snowfall. Traditional media haven't reported on it, but the bloggers [13] [zh] are talking. SinaBBS user syyanwu has posted two [14] photos:


Tianya [16] blogger '17 years of schooling’ writes [17]:

2003年,十堰市根据市场经济的要求,大胆改革,把公交公司卖给极有创新魄力的私人老板,在全国首创应该由政 府投入的公交建设转移到私人老板操作。

We've had heavy snow here in Shiyan, Hubei, these last two days, and the buses have actually stopped running!
I strongly denounce the bus company's job action!
In 2003, based on demands of the market economy, Shiyan city carried out brave reforms, and sold the company to a very innovative and trailblazing private businessperson, probably the first time in the country a government had transfered operations of a public transportation system to a private owner.

这次的公交公司停运毫无道理。虽然原因不明,当地媒体也没有就公交停运告知市民。但是显而易见的是,既然是私人老板经营,赚钱第一是天经地义,不要去比什么北京的公交才4角钱,那是政 府解决民生之举,这是私人赚钱发财之道,连政 府都体谅私人老板无利不起早,还不应该老板叫咋的就咋的!

Reports at the time read: “the government has realized the ‘where there's money to be made’ nature of private capital, and then, sure enough, the price of bus tickets went from 1 yuan to 1.5 yuan. For a while, the city's taxis and minibuses saw business get red-hot; minibus owners knew passengers’ incomes are limited, and unless their workplaces compensated for the difference, they wouldn't pay the extra 50 cents to take a city bus, and so of course the minibus price stayed at 1 yuan.
After a bit of back and forth, the bus company was forced back down to 1 yuan.
But this stoppage of bus company services now makes no sense whatsoever. Although the reasons may not be clear, local media haven't even told the city that buses have stopped. What's obvious, though, is that this being a privately-owned operation, it makes sense that earning money is the first priority, so don't go making comparisons to Beijing, where taking the bus only costs 40 cents; that's a move the government in consideration of living standards there, and this is a private means of earning money and becoming wealthy. The government allows for private business to choose where to invest [i.e. freedom to reject the unprofitable], so it should not be doing whatever some private boss says!


These two days, Shiyan, Hubei, has seen heavy snowfall, and buses have actually stopped running!
Tianya netizens are arguing: if the boss doesn't have any money, why on earth buy a bus company?

One anonymous user at Mop.com writes [18] Tuesday afternoon that the strike has already entered its fourth day:


May I just ask: how many cities in the country could there be that sell their public transportation utilities to private owners???????!!!!!!!

Writing back on Monday [19], Sohu blogger Moon-Wind:



On the evening of the 12th, buses in Shiyan went on strike. As of the 14th, the strike was still on.
What I want to explore is: does going on strike accomplish anything?
Because everyone considers things with respect to their personal gain, whether something suits them, and whether to let it pass. If things truly are the way the striking side has said, and this is about collusion between business and government, striking will certainly not resolve anything. You need to know, that here in Shiyan, it's like a safety deposit box for officials. We've yet to see any cases of severe punishment of officials. Everyone can take a look at that case which concluded recently for starters.

The question now is: is going on strike really the only means by which benefits can be obtained?
1. For the workers, that which they serve is the public. If the strike continues too long, what will people be thinking?
2. Speaking specifically in regards to public transportation, what people see are rising minibus prices and taxis who won't go by the meter. Maybe if all modes of transportation went on strike. Except, has that target been achieved?

One netizen sent this in as a news tip [20] to QQ [21] on the 13th:

2008年1月13日湖北省十堰市公交公司整体大罢工数天造成严重影响 路面上没有一辆公交汽车 私营巴士车辆趁火打劫猛涨价 平时一元的现在要5元开始时间2008年1月12日15:00:00 现在时间2008年1月13日19:39:27 电话13117100986

Shiyan, Hubei Province, the city's bus company has gone on major strike.
Starting on January 13, the Shiyan City Bus Company has gone on a total multiple-day strike, creating serious impact. There isn't a single bus on the streets. Privately-owned buses have maliciously raised prices. Normally 1 yuan, starting at 3pm on Jan. 12, 2008, the price went up to 5 yuan. Now it's 7:39 pm on Jan. 13, 2008. Phone: 13117100986.

Sina blogger Shenhanyang mentions the price gouging and direct effects of a media blackout in his Jan. 13 post, ‘Heavy snow in Shiyan, bus drivers show revolutionary spirit and go on strike’ [22]:


People not in the loop stand at the bus stops stamping their feet, gazing longingly in anticipation that a bus will appear. But in the end, all that shows up is a minibus or taxi with raised prices.

Marxist rhetoric like that which Shenhanyang goes on to dole out may not be the general tone to any of these discussions, but particularly with the massively-blogged Shanghai protests, there is something similar; from club.cat898 blogger 01free, ‘The awakening of citizen awareness: “walking” on the streets’ [23]:


Last year, the residents of Xiamen went for a little walk, and went on to become the media's “people of the year”. We Shanghainese don't just take things sitting down either, and we agreed to meet in front of the Shanghai Municipal Government at People's Park to “take a stroll”. We got tired, but no worries, we just stopped a bit into the march at Nanjing Pedestrian Street for a bit of “shopping” [24]. They say that in Tianmen, Hubei where that company executive was beaten to death by chengguan for taking photos, a crowd took to the streets for a “walk” there too, to show their dissatisfaction at the chengguan's despicable behavior.

“Walking” down the street—you can't help but admire the people for their intelligence. In this society, which has always seen marches and demonstrations as politically sensitive, with the invention and appearance of these “walks”, you can't not say that this is a kind of remarkable step forward.
To bravely step out from one's own private space, and boldly and openly express one's true thoughts and interest demands, is to expose those political lies sent out under the banner of public interest, and even if the original goal is petty personal interest like not seeing your housing devalued, we still ought to act like this and make some noise.
Walking down the street is still something that feels a little strange to us, like something buried deep in our history, and what follows is collective fanaticism and unconsciousness, mixed with blood, even. Under the current political situation, it's still a dishonorable behavior, and people are most easily able to associate it with the Cultural Revolution style of denouncing people through the streets, and when students lost all reason to political aspirations and the interests and victims of the extreme struggles. When the generation born in the 1980s began learning more how to express themselves virtually online, the possibility of seeing people walk down the streets seemed to move further and further away from us.




I've asserted before, that the post-80s generation is one which has never seen people marching down the street. Compared to the Cultural Revolution experiences of those born in the 50s and 60s and the political fervor on the streets of those with liberated thinking born in the 70s, the post-80s generation really seem just like flowers in a greenhouse. Since they were small, they've been taught how to be good and stay in their rooms, and not to go running around. The streets are full of dangers, with insane drivers tearing around, abominable human traffickers out there, even gangs of thugs who fear nothing and will do anything. So they grew accustomed to spending evenings studying in front of a lamp at a desk, or else nights spent battling each other in front of computer screens and, as they grew up a bit, love for expressing themselves anonymously on internet forums.

But what does this “generation off the streets” lack?

Streets are a definite public space, and they require that everyone on them come with a steep sense of the rules in order to maintain basic order. Pedestrians and vehicles stay to the right, garbage is not to be thrown down randomly, and urination and defecation are definitely not allowed. There you won't see people cursing at or fighting each other for no reason, and even those will less cultivation work hard to contribute to maintaining a nice image.

With the aim of preserving one's independence as well as the integrity of the commons, people, for the most part, get along well with each other. If you look closely, this is precisely what civic awareness is about. If the issuing of the property law [25] symbolizes the justification for a start to a harmonious existence between private property and “public property”, then the rise of “walks” represents aspirations to ideals of private interest, and symbolizes a step toward the awakening of civic awareness.

A sentiment echoed by Tianya blogger Huazi in a short Jan. 14 post [26], since deleted, ‘City residents who are allowed to march are lucky’:



Last year, because the people walked and protested, the Xiamen city government decided to cancel [27] the environmentally pollutive PX project. This year, residents of a neighborhood through which Maglev train tracks were about to be built, also walked and protested the noise and magnetic radiation [sic]. This time, though, will they be able to succeed?

Regardless of how it turns out, that the government allowed city residents to walk is in itself already a humongous step forward. Societies that can “walk” are the harmonious ones……

On that, indie blogger ‘The ups and downs’ writes [28]:


With the experience of Xiamen citizens’ “harmonious stroll” last year, the Chinese people's means of expressing dissatisfaction have grown bolder. This, well, it's a good thing! With China's largest city, Shanghai, having been the next to get out and walk, what does that imply? Which city will be next now? Shanghai's leaders must surely be thinking of a way to resolve this. But what will the result be? Their treatment of this must surely indicate the direction similar incidents will take in the near future. Come then, will it still be the will of the people that's victorious though?

In anticipation of that next big protest, MSN Live Spaces blogger Smart Mojo gives a few safety tips [29]:

4。如果JC抓人,带摄像拍照设备的请拍照保留证据,同时保护好证据,不要被JC没收删除。大家要齐喊“谢谢JC同志!”这样JC会懵一下 我们也有机会, 把人拉回来。不要直接和警察打起来!切记!

It's almost Chinese new year [30], everyone keep safe!
Chinese new year is almost here. Everyone needs to keep safe! Do your best to spread this around.
1. When out strolling and practicing your voice, do NOT clash with police either verbally or in person;
2. If the police start driving people away, don't be impulsive, just go with the flow;
3. If the people around you start getting impulsive, if you can confirm it's someone from your community, then get people to hold him down; if nobody recognizes him, ignore him, stay away from him, let him do his own thing;
4. If the police start arresting people, those with cameras please start taking photos to keep as evidence, and at the same time protect that evidence, don't let the police confiscate or erase it. Get everyone to yell, “Thank you Comrade Officer!” This will baffle the officer a little, giving you the opportunity to get your people back. Do not go straight to hitting the police. Remember that!
5. In the off-chance that you do get arrested and taken away, do not engage in a oral confrontation with the police. Please try and keep as quiet as possible, make sure you understand the statement before you sign it, and refuse to sign if doing so is detrimental to you. People will do everything in their power to rescue you!

On January 11, veteran Bullog blogger Beifeng received a tip [31], a very long piece of citizen reporting actually, from a source who just happened to pass by a smallish protest, but one still going down the middle of the street, this time in Guangzhou [32] in the south:





At around 9:20 pm, I was walking toward the corner [33] of Paomachang Lu and Linjiang Dadao when I heard the bangs of gongs and drums. I thought maybe there were people rehearsing a performance off to the side of Linjiang Dadao, it being so close to Chinese new year and all. And here near the river there are usually people exercising or dancing or whatever, and sometimes they have music. I crossed the road, heading toward the Pearl River, and about 7 or 8 minutes later, my curiosity drove me to head back in the direction of where the sounds were coming from.

When I got back to the intersection, I saw a group of people (around 100) coming along Linjiang Dadao from the east heading west in the direction of Guangzhou Dadao. Just then there was a red light, so I stood on the south side of Linjiang Dadao waiting for it to go green. The crowd was coming closer, and I was able to see a bit clearer. A group of city residents, banging gongs and striking drums, as well as two white banners with very visible black lettering. I'm quite shortsighted, though, so I couldn't see exactly what was written, something about a park or something.

When the light turned green, I ran to the edge of the crowd. At this time, they'd already started heading west. I tagged along for about 100 meters. That was when I could see, the two white banners had “Appeal to the government to act in good faith” and “Give us back our city land”. Within the procession there were a lot of seniors and children, as well as little babies too young to walk being carried by their parents. From the building on the west side of the intersection, people pressed up against the railings to take pictures or call out in support. And there seemed to be a lot of women, my rough estimate would be at least more than half.

I asked one young fella in the group what was going on. He told me to look at the banners and then I'd know, that the government had taken land marked out for the building of an inner-city garden, and sold it to a developer, who was preparing to use it to build apartment towers. At this point the procession doubled back, and started heading back east to the intersection, stopping at the corner. At the building on the west side of the street, dozens of people had come out and were taking photos from the sides and calling out to them in support. Some kids and younger people started climbing over, or gathered around to watch, and some even joined in.

The writer goes on to list the turns and course of the procession, describing how the protesters for the most part chose to bang the drums and gongs over chanting slogans; also that the police were very civil, and when at one point some young guys came close to brushing with the cops, some girls pulled them back in. Later, larger banners are pulled out, the march stops to thanks the cops and, just before 11 pm, heads back to the housing community, Nanguo Garden [34].

The writer tags along, learning more about the homeowners’ situation, that all the background information is available in the lobby of Nanguo Garden tower B1, hearing arguments that this piece of land they're fighting for had been put aside for a city park, that senior citizens are leading the movement and need younger residents to get involved and chip in, that the new apartment towers, at 50 floors high, will be twice the height of theirs [35], and that city bylaws forbid construction of buildings of that height so close to the river.

S/he also learns that a series of protests the weekend before had been successful in halting construction, but that no journalists had shown up to cover it, responding to the leader of the group telling her all this that the reason is most likely due to most journalists having weekends off. By 11:10pm, everyone had peacefully gone home. One other strategy the writer learns that the protesters are using, is after having set up two homeowner hotlines (13724812234 and 13724811557), the cellphones themselves are being rotated between different organizers, lest any individuals be singled out as spokespeople for the ground and….

Some scrounging around local homeowner forums does manage to bring up a few mentions of the situation; at the GZ.focus.cn bbs, user ‘Linjiang Wind’ asks for feedback [36] on their approach of holding protests on fixed dates, starting discussion off with:


I personally feel the organization is a little chaotic: the slogans aren't in tandem, the banners are too simple and crude, the procession doesn't stick together, and the overall effect isn't very good.

Linjiang Wind doesn't get much response, although one anonymous user needs to get together with the writer of Beifeng's piece:


We've had two protests already, so why haven't there been any reporters on the scene? If G4 or other local urban beat television show reporters came and did interviews, I believe that we'd have ten times the influence we do now. Not only that, the last couple protests have been held at night, and don't really attract much attention. If the Kingold group project [37] can be changed, and raise both your hands if you agree, why don't we put notice of the next protest online, at the same time posting it to the forums for nearby Seaview Garden [38] and Lasony UpZone, let everybody come together to construct a harmonious society, expose Kingold's hideous face, and rebuild this city park.