The Guardian today reports on another riot in rural China:
Thousands of Chinese villagers have clashed with police over access to irrigation water, leading to at least one death and five injuries, the local media reported yesterday. Amid a rise in violent rural unrest, the authorities used water cannon and tear gas to break up an angry protest in the village of Bomei the southern province of Guangdong.
According to the South China Morning Post, the villagers used homemade weapons, including petrol bombs, to keep more than 1,000 police officers from tearing down a sluice gate they had built in September to divert water to their fields.
The Economist today says:
Zhou Yongkang, has said that “actively preventing and properly handling” mass incidents was the main task for his Ministry of Public Security this year.
According to Mr Zhou, there were some 74,000 protests last year, involving more than 3.7m people; up from 10,000 in 1994 and 58,000 in 2003. Sun Liping, a Chinese academic, has calculated that demonstrations involving more than 100 people occurred in 337 cities and 1,955 counties in the first 10 months of last year. This amounted to between 120 and 250 such protests daily in urban areas, and 90 to 160 in villages. These figures are likely to be conservative.
The Guardian article finishes by telling us there were “230 riots a day” in China last year. If China has officially 35 total areas including provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, then there are 6.5 “riots” every day in every province/region/municipality? We haven’t seen any in Shanghai (apart from the anti-Japanese one), so that’s 2372.5 more that would have to be apportioned out to the other seemingly revolutionary provinces in the year. We haven’t heard from any of our friends living in Beijing, Chongqing, or the other big cities that riots have taken place, which means even more of these “riots” are happening in more concentrated pockets. Is there a Shanghaiist reader out there in Guangdong province who is hunkered down while the trucks over-turn and the bombs go off down there in war-torn Southern China?
We can’t be sure of the above definitions of a “riot”. Maybe they just mean a heated argument at a bao zi fang dian? Because then we can definitely believe that there are millions of riots in the “you owe me 1 jiao” / “this bao zi is very slightly smaller than the others” area.
The Carnegie Endowment tells us that the definition of a “riot” or a “protest” include “sit-ins, riots, strikes and demonstrations”. Now that’s more like it. We don’t doubt that there is social unrest in the rural areas of China, and that it is a serious issue, but the Western media — this time The Guardian being the culprit — seems to paint a picture of a social situation equalling the hottest parts of downtown Baghdad. It seems to be quite fashionable to paint the picture of some kind of “migrant uprising” on the horizon, and to debate when the next revolution will take place. The more you know Chinese people from the countryside, the more you might realise that before anything else — they are Chinese. They — the Chinese Shanghaiist has encountered, at least — might want to get rid of the local leaders, but they would never question the flag and the legitimacy of the boys right up top (unless they are taxi drivers taking a laowai home on the small hours of the weekend).
We had thought better of The Guardian, but their word choice and their slant on this simply tar them with the same brush as the rest of western media’s scare-mongering. The Economist uses the title “The Cauldron Boils”, but it could just be that the cauldron has a peaceful sit-in while it reads the paper, sips tea and knits gloves. An important point is raised though. As Hu And Wen say that social unrest is a problem now and they vow to create a new socialist countryside, they talk about the issue as if they are mere commentators rather than the people that can make it happen. They did recently talk about new rural reforms, but will these actually deal with the people’s concerns? Time will tell.
You know on second thoughts, as we type this in Ruzzi on Huahai Lu, there is a baby crying very loudly, and a Chinese man ‘talking’ even more loudly. Get ready for riot number one, Shanghai.
Related (from The Guardian):
Chinese villagers seize party chief
Chinese paramilitary chief held after village killings
Land seizures threaten social stability, warns China’s leader
China activists ‘vanish’ amid protests
China vows to create ‘new socialist countryside’
Photo from Economist’s View.