The Xiamen Chemical Factory Protests: Power to the People

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A fascinating development in the ongoing saga of Xiamen’s mini civic rebellion, a case that may prove a model for the many not-in-my-backyard revolts that Chinese authorities will face in coming years as the swelling ranks of the middle class assert themselves. Back in June, citizens of the fair port city of Xiamen poured into the streets (here’s one of the best accounts translated by the excellent team at Global Voices Online) to protest the proposal by the city government to build a huge chemical factory in a city suburb. It was all very peaceful and while there was some intimidation by the police afterwards, there doesn’t seem to have been a concerted effort to nail protesters. In fact, the city government, encouraged no doubt by not-so-subtle indications from Beijing that it should reconsider, “suspended” the billion dollar project. Now, in what seems to me a surprising move, the government has held two days of public hearings that have been reported in the Chinese media despite the fact that almost all of those participating expressed their opposition to the plan. This has to be one of the first times something like this–backing down, public participation– has happened in China’s recent history (I’d be happy to be corrected here if I missed something) and stands in stark contrast to other disputes, mostly with poorer farmers or working class urban types and usually over money, which have been supressed with brutal and sometimes fatal efficiency. That makes this case definitely one to be followed very closely. How Xiamen is handled will say a great deal about the way the Communist Party is looking to contain or neutralize growing demands for a greater say by those pesky middle class types without threatening its own position.
(An excellent summary of the various opinions and some further links can be found here, at the Danwei blog)