Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Killing the 'Good Earth'

Killing the 'Good Earth': China's Peasant Uprising

PEJ News - C. L. Cook - The fouling of China's rural water and airsheds by factories situated near villages far from the furtile real estate markets of the city threatens to kill the "Good Earth' and the long-enduring way of life it sustains. Frustrated with government inaction, the "peasants" have taken the fight to the gates of the offending factories, where demonstration has led to riots and death on both sides. And, the movement is spreading.

Killing the 'Good Earth'
Unrest in China's Countryside
C. L. Cook

PEJ News
July 20, 05

China's rapid industrial development has brought with it all the banes familiar to the rest of the post-industrial world: Crowding, sprawl, poverty and crime. But, it's not in the cities where the worst side-effects of the mushrooming manufacturing economy are being felt. Much of the damage being done is to the environment, and most acutely experienced in China's agricultural heartland, where the tillers and toilers see little benefits to the destruction of their fields and livelihood.

Chinese authorities spent the weekend battling with farmers and citizens protesting a local factory's pollution is destroying them. Xinchang is a few hundred kilometers down-wind of Shanghai, where a local pharmaceutical plant has been repeatedly cited by the population as posing an environmental threat to them. They've been assured by bribed officials their concerns will be addressed, but frustrated with protracted inaction, they've taken things in hand.

Rural insurrection is in the air right now throughout China, and the residents of Xinchang, knowing of similar civil actions taken in neighbouring areas suffering similar problems and the fate of those demos, were wily in their approach to this event.

Crossing the fields and backways, more than fifteen thousands managed to elude road blocks and other impediments to gather at the gates of the Jingxin Pharmaceutical Company, the site of a recent deadly explosion and release of poison gas. Met with riot police and tear gas, the protesters fought back, killing an admitted six police, wounding many others.

No details on civilian casualties are presently verifiable.

The explosion proved the spark for an already primed atmosphere where crop failures and illness are being blamed on the plant's variously toxic effluents. An unidentified woman living near the plant, (locals say they're afraid to reveal their identity for fear of arrest), says: "Our fields won’t produce grain anymore... We don’t dare to eat food grown from anywhere near here.”

Last Sunday, (JY 17) pitched battles broke out between demonstrators and authorities bussed in to the scene. The crowd overturned police cars, threw stones and bottles, and engaged police. Monday, crowds returned, though in lesser numbers, vowing a determination to continue blockades until the plant is shut-down.

China's political environmental too is to millions a disaster. Occuring throughout China's "miracle economy" are masses of dispossessed peasants, driven from the land to a Dickensian industrial nightmare, destined to toil endlessly for survival in conditions promising less. Staying in the country often means victimization at the hands of local crony pols, the remnants of China's communist legacy now comprising a network of 21st century company towns.

But that network has been shaken by thousands of big and small expressions of resistance.

The Xinchang rebellion is just the latest and biggest of a wave of militant responses to the radical restructuring of Chinese society seen in recent years. As Reuters reports, last year there were 74,000 "incidents" of insurrection reported. They attribute the heightened social unrest with the failure of the central government to deal with local grievances, most concerned local corruption. And, the usually tacit central authority is listening.

Earlier this month, the Party's deputy director, Li Jingtian, criticized elements of the Party's "grassroots cadres," saying: "some of them are probably less competent, and they are not able to dissipate these conflicts or problems."

Not exactly fighting words, but self-criticism is neither a common sight for the Party, that remains the first and last word in China.

Chris Cook hosts Gorilla Radio, a weekly public affairs program, broad/webcast from the University of Victoria, Canada. He's also a contributing editor at

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