Qidong, Jiangsu province, July 28, hundreds of local students and residents took to the street to protest against the construction of a Japanese sewage treatment plant that was said to dump tens of thousands of tons of waste water into the sea via a 100-kilometer-long pipeline. In the same day, local government promised to permanently cancel the project.
Unlike the not-in-my-backyard protest in Shifang just a few week ago which ended up with a violent clash between local police and protesters, we saw restrained police force and a local government that was quick to respond in Qidong…well…quicker than that of Shifang at least. That being said, given the level of public distrust of the government, one can hardly expect any intended-to-be-peaceful protests in China go completely without any violence. Qidong was no exception –local government building was swept and the mayor of Qidong was stripped.
People in front of the government building
People occupying the government building
Qidong is a city near Shanghai, located right by the estuary of Yangtze River. A Japanese paper mill Oji Paper Co., Ltd was to set up a new sewage treatment plant in Qidong, which raised concerns of risks to local drinking water and fishing businesses. Like in Shifang, the protest was organized by students who, according to a report by South China Morning Post, was “inspired by the protest in Shifang, Sichuan province” and used “instant messaging and social networking websites to call for tens of thousands of people to join.”
But this Qidong protest is not the victory-of-the-oppressed-people unrest commonly seen in China. Several things of the Qidong protest may mark a new era of grassroots activism in China. Before Qidong, China has the rising conscious citizens who know they have rights and are willing to fight for their rights. After Qidong, we see citizens who not only have the will to fight, but also know how to fight strategically.
From poster made by protesters
Protesters on the streets with petition signed by local residents
T-shirt with “Strongly oppose pollution by Oji”
Weeks before the protest today, a beautifully-made poster titled “Protest OJI Pollute Qidong” started to circulate online. The poster explained in detail where was Qidong, what happened in Qidong, what environmental harms the sewage plant would bring, why local residents opposed the construction, etc.
Some nice touches from the poster:
- People from the developed world have the right and responsibility to protect the environment and the ocean, so do we people from the emerging markets.
- We firmly support CCP leadership. Chairman Mao taught us to pursuit fair, efficient and sustainable development, Deng Xiaoping taught us to stick to sustainable development. Hu Jintao taught us to have a scientific outlook of development. Local government officials, didn’t you learn these?
- Protest civilizedly, protest rationally. Protest the ocean, protect our home.
Apart from the very convincing and creatively executed poster, it also appeared that organizers of the protest have actually took the trouble to file an application for protest permit from local government, which, of course, got rejected.
Rejection letter issued by local government
2. Local police and government officials were restrained
Yes, there were A LOT of police. But in front of a smashed government building and flocks of angry protesters, there weren’t any tear gas or beating, which, compared with what happened in Shifang or in other past unrests in China, is an improvement.
Police on the street
In particular, Sun Jianhua, Mayor of Qidong, received quite some approval from netizens for the smile on his face after protesters stripped off his clothes. Netizen 他回精神病院了 commented: “A mayor can still smile after his clothes were stripped off and didn’t call for tear gas or tanks to crack down the protesters. It’s an improvement. This mayor deserves some applause. Even better, he immediately announced that the project was permanently canceled.” 记者刘向南 echoed: “The protest was over, but the shy smile of this mayor will be remembered in people’s heart forever.”
Mayor of Qidong, Sun Jianhua, stripped off by protesters who tried to force him to wear the “Strongly oppose pollution by Oji” protest t-shirt.
This time the mayor, not the protesters, was chased after and has to run.
3. Voices calling for peaceful protests and the respect of law and order
When Chinese netizens make comments to protests like this, one rarely hear voices calling the protesters, or the people, to restrain. It’s always bravos and contaminations of the government. But this time in Qidong, many netizens were actually on the side of the government, asking the protesters to calm down and restrain from using violence, even if it was used to fight against the “evil” government and its corrupted officials.
Stuff throwing out of the government building
Protesters smashing police cars on the street
Protesters in the government building
Expensive wine and condom found inside the government building….
王维嘉: “Peaceful protests are ok, but stripping off a mayor is not. Even if the mayor has made bad decisions, he still deserves some basic respect.”
漆洪波: “There are a lot of ways to fight for rights. The bottom line is that no party uses violence.”
王功权 : “Call on citizens in Qidong to be rational and show some democracy qualities. Give an education to those who argue that the Chinese people aren’t good enough for democracy, freedom and human rights. The government has gave in, promising to permanently cancel the project. Citizens should give some positive feedback and try to end further protests, giving the government a chance to make things right. Also call on Qidong government to keep cool and do not use violence.”
林距离歌: “Please stop any kind of violence. Otherwise, it’s not a peaceful protest.”
葵花小子: “To all my fellow residents in Qidong, if you love Qidong, please stop any form of violence. When the government is restrained, why should we destroy the balance? Of course, it’s probably all done by a group of young kids. A mayor was stripped off of his clothes by protesters and didn’t issue any crackdown, isn’t this one step closer to democracy?”
云游四海出差帝-FYJS: “Friends who are still at the scene of the protest, or who has family and friends that are, please go back home when you see this Weibo post. Things have changed. It’s no longer the peaceful, reasonable and legal protest we hoped for. Staying now and you will become the tools of those with secretive motives. It’s no good for either the people or the government. Please go home.”
池边墨梅: “Any personal attack is wrong. We can understand, but what’s wrong can never be right.”
爱民先富温斯顿: “Looks like a democracy-style Cultural Revolution.”
XL号的: “This is so terrifying. Today, they stripped off a mayor, tomorrow may be you and me. I see another Cultural Revolution coming.”
王建硕: “I’m very disappointed at how things [Qidong protest] unfolded today. People crossed the line, very seriously. It was a bad start, not like the rational protests in Xiamen and many other places. You will get addicted to violence if you used violence to get what you want. Other people’s mistake isn’t reason for you to make the same mistake. A good motive doesn’t justify a wrong process. If China proceeds with the current way of thinking, it will go back to the rule of violence.”
The Qidong case proves exactly that the mounting conflict between the Chinese government and its people isn’t a question without an answer. The Chinese people would appreciate it whenever those in power show some kindness. The official Weibo account of People’s Daily has the perfect post to end this story: “China is where you stand. China is what you do. You are China. If you are bright, China won’t be dark.”