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    Greater China
     Aug 4, 2012

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'Occupy' with Chinese characteristics
By Peter Lee

One of life's many ironies is that the Occupy model of disobedient activism has racked up more successes in the land ruled by that poster child of remorseless authoritarianism, the Chinese Communist Party, than it has in the United States.

US Occupy activists were quickly and efficiently shoveled into the "dirty dreamy disorderly hippie radical" box by political, economic, and media elites eager to make the world safe for income inequality. For their part, the activists - very much like the 1989 protesters in China - were all too eager to occupy the morally (and, up to a point, physically) safer high ground of non-violent civil disobedience.

Passive petitioning resulted in little more than littered, smelly


encampments in public parks and a fatal loss of interest and support from the US public.

Things are different in China.

Popular occupation of government offices in the Guangdong village of Wukan in response to the real-estate depredations of the local powerbrokers was a thrilling demonstration of people power.

The China-occupy model spread with successful actions against the township government of Shifang in Sichuan province over a copper smelting project and, most recently, in the seaside Jiangsu town of Qidong, where locals stormed the township government building to stop a wastewater pipeline.

A most interesting and important element of the Shifang and Qidong actions is the prominence of a confrontational vanguard of young people - high school students and twenty-somethings (collectively known as "after 80s" and "after 90s" for their birth years) who appear quite happy to mix it up violently with the cops and cadres.

It appears that a new generation is less interested in recapitulating the experience of 1989 and the Tiananmen Square protests than redefining it, or even discarding it.

That creates a new challenge for foreign observers of China, especially those who continue to view Chinese dissidents primarily through the prism of 1989, with a vision of nobly (and Nobel-y) passively suffering, democracy worshipping, and US-adoring dissidents that sometimes verges on patronizing condescension.

China's "post-1980s" and "post-1990s" generations grew up after the Communist Party settled on the formula of modulated political repression and explosive economic growth enshrined in the term "stability."

That's a dispensation that many members of the "post-1980s" and "post-1990s" generations have no share in policy formulating, and perhaps see little need to respect, as they navigate their way through the demoralizing and degrading post-socialist robber barony that is China today.

In Shifang, activists among a crowd of several thousand attempted to bumrush the municipal government building, but were repelled in a police action that turned into something of a police riot. The result was dozens of serious injuries inflicted on agitators, demonstrators, and hapless bystanders alike, and a marked swing in national popular sympathy toward the demonstrators.

Qidong provided an alternate vision of how Shifang might have turned out.

Asahi Shimbun's Atsushi Okudera reported from Qidong:
About 5,000 people filled the streets in central Qidong before 6 a.m., when the rally began. The protesters began chanting, "Protect the environment" against the dangers posed by a plan for a drainage pipeline into local waters.

But less than 10 minutes later, the crowd broke through a row of police officers blocking the main street and started marching toward the city government building 1 kilometer away. The demonstrators became louder after they reached the building.

Several minutes later, they pulled down the steel gate and swarmed over the premises.

About 2,000 occupied the inner courtyard, several thousand on the street in front of the city government building and many others in nearby structures overlooking the building, bringing the total of protesters to more than 10,000. [1]
The cops did not make a concerted effort to protect the municipal building (although they did engage in some arresting and headcracking - as well as pummeling Atsushi Okuderu and seizing his camera - later on).

Demonstrators rushed in and trashed several offices, flinging objects and documents out the windows. Their trophies of anti-authoritarian triumph - a publicly displayed stash of liquor and condoms - created less of an impression than photos of overturned police cars and the spectacle of the party secretary of Qidong, Sun Jianhua, smiling sheepishly after demonstrators tried to strip him in the street and forcibly clothe him in pro-environmentalist t-shirt. [2]

"Rampaging young people" evokes the trauma of the Cultural Revolution for the older, better-educated, and more thoughtful Chinese citizen.

For Western observers, the analog is the Arab Spring, an outpouring of youthful anger and a yearning for dignity and agency that counts respect for liberal democracy and free enterprise - and the elites that profit from them - a distant second.

The incident in Qidong offers an insight into the dynamics of political activism in China - and also hints that the Communist Party hasn't quite figured out what to do about it.

The wastewater pipeline had attracted unfavorable attention in Qidong since it was announced in 2009.

The pipeline is a core component of a massive paper project in the special economic zone of Nantong City (the political jurisdiction encompassing Qidong) near Shanghai. Instead of dumping the effluent into the nearby Yangtze River, the decision was made to build a 112-kilometer pipeline to dump the wastewater into the Yellow Sea at Qidong's ocean port of Lusi.

Lusi is one of China's four major fishing ports and is near an important fishing ground. With the construction of the bridge-and-tunnel project from Shanghai across Chongming Island to the Yangtze's north shore, the Qidong coast is now only an hours' drive from Shanghai and is turning into something like China's Cape Cod - a beachside getaway (with traffic jams) for affluent city dwellers yearning for the bracing sea air and the famous local clams.

Environmental degradation is emphatically not on the menu, and it appears that the pipeline project inspired a significant amount of local unease.

It was promised that the pipeline would deliver wastewater of the modern, well-mannered sort from a greenfield plant with world-class environmental controls - the pipeline was called "The project for expelling water that has met applicable standards into the sea" - but locals were understandably skeptical.

The pulp plant going up alongside the paper mill would be enormous - at a capacity of 700,000 tonnes per year. The amount of wastewater sloshed into the pipeline would be even more enormous - dozens of tonnes of water for every tonne of pulp produced, for a daily flow of 150,000 tonnes.

If the effluent was so safe, people asked, why not dump it into the Yangtze instead of spending tens of millions of yuan to pipe it to the coast at Qidong? (It appears that the pipeline is meant to bypass a key reservoir in the Shanghai drinking water system on the Yangtze downstream of Nantong.)

Public suspicion was exacerbated by the concern that other Nantong industries might eventually piggyback their waste on the pipeline, dumping who-knows-what - perhaps after a festival of corrupt permitting - into Qidong's local waters.

Government assurances apparently did little to mollify citizens of Qidong who were uneasy with the project, or discourage activists looking to push the issue. Opposition in Qidong was undoubtedly energized by the example of Shifang. 

Continued 1 2  

Beijing plays up the carrot, wields stick
(Jul 25, '12)

Wukan 'solution' fails key land-rights test (Feb 28, '12)

Occupy World Street (Oct 19, '12)

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9. Kim Jong-eun comes of age ...

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(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, Aug 2, 2012)


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