Categories: East Asia, China, Taiwan (ROC), Environment, Governance, Politics, Protest
On Saturday 28 July 2012, tens of thousand of protesters surrounded the local government building in Qidong city in China's Jiansu province, to protest against the construction of a pipeline, which would channel wastewater from a Japanese owned paper mill into the sea.
Some protesters broke into the building compound and in response, a number of public opinion makers from the Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo condemned them for using violence. Similar accusations were also made last month during the Shifang protest against the construction of a molybdenum copper plant, which helped justify the government's crackdown there the following day. Banned from Sina Weibo, Chinese dissidents used Twitter to criticize public opinion leaders for ignoring the political reality in China.
A Twitter user bridged photos from Weibo to show the difference between the scale of violence used by the State and by the Qidong protesters.
Li Kaifu, former Google president in China used [zh] the Taiwan 2006 protest experience to deliver his idea of peaceful demonstration via Weibo:
[The courage to stop a loaded arrow] Back in 2006, a million protesters dressed in red surrounded the Chen Shuibian government in Taiwan, the leader Si Mingde insisted that they should not crush into the building and no blood should be shed. He did not romanticize the means [the use of force]. If the protesters took the wrong path, an army of justice would become sinners in history. He said: “An arrow is loaded and is ready to take the shot, it takes more courage and wisdom to unload it then letting it go off.” I wish people from Jiansu would see this.
In the comments section, many netizens have wisely pointed out the differences between the political systems in Taiwan and mainland China:
布吉-moxie：Mr Li, at least you have to distinguish the difference between the political systems in the two regions, one is democratic, one is authoritative. Could the Jews have negotiated with Hitler? Of course ordinary people don't want to shed blood, but when there is no other way out, they are brave enough to sacrifice themselves for a greater cause.
满怀希望满怀感激：You are wrong. People in mainland Chinese are different from the Taiwanese red shirt protesters. They are under a democratic, orderly system aspiring for justice and clean governance. The Chinese counterparts are under a despotic, authoritative system, struggling for their survival. Why did the Qidong people take to the streets? Pollution [from the pipeline] will affect their lives and their children. You may well say that it is courageous to unload the arrow, because no one is pointing the knife to your neck!
Li's comment is echoed [zh] by his colleague Wang Jianshuo, who is a former Microsoft employee in China:
It is heart breaking to see what's going on today. People have crossed the line too far. This is a bad beginning, unlike the Xiamen rally [note: protest in 2006 against the construction of a chemical factory]. People would get addicted to the use of violence. Don't justify your wrongs with others’ wrongs. While your cause is right, the means can be wrong. If such rationalisation continues to spread, China will enter a cycle of violence.
This YouTube video produced by Boxun uploaded by CleosThoughts looks at the cycle of violence from another the perspective, showing how the police beat up the protestors:
Isaac Mao on Twitter points out [zh] that without a mechanism for genuine negotiation, mob behavior is inevitable:
Mobs cannot be controlled. Even the participants could not tell how things happened. So many people were gathered in such a small area, interacting and reacting to one and other. No one can predict the outcome. Unless there is a mechanism for dialogue with the authorities through public assembly and permission for representatives to carry on negotiating with the government. No one can take hold of the situation.
The majority of the demonstrators were very peaceful; YouTube user Free More News captured the mass protest on video:
Artist-activist is very angry at [zh] how the public intellectuals channelled the discussion:
How does violence start? How is authority established? How is interest distributed? How is the truth covered up? How does the conversation end? How does one lose his/her rights? You don't count these as violence and only when the victims make their desperate cries, then you can see violence.
Twitter user @oldwine questions [zh] the integrity of the public opinion leaders via Weibo:
People in Qidong launched a successful ambush. Immediately so many people stepped out to thank the party for being kind and merciful, advocating against the rioters and the use of violence. Now that the Party state is ready to crackdown on the protest, then they would come out and say, the authorities are over-reacting. They are like grass growing on top of the wall, ready to move with the wind. They just want to avoid commenting on the essence of the evil political system and are conspiring to the current situation.