BBC’s Shanghai correspondent Quentin Sommerville goes to the Pingyang neighbourhood south of Shanghai and finds that the anti-Maglev protests have not quite abated. In his report [VPN required], he makes the following observation:
Rarely have protests in China been so well organised, or the protesters so well-dressed.
The Maglev protests are really a case study in acts of civil disobedience with Chinese characteristics. Knowing that their protests would never be approved by the authorities, demonstrators decided to hold “walking” and “shopping on Nanjing Lu” events instead, organising them by means of SMS and the Internet. Outright “protests” would no doubt have elicited a more hardline approach from the authorities.
It is also interesting to note in this clip how protestors are facing the camera and even speaking to a foreign journalist with no fear of reprisal. We may be wrong, but just a few years ago, this would have been unthinkable.
Are the authorities relenting? Are they willing to listen to what the people have to say? At least news headlines seem to suggest so. On Google News, headlines say the Shanghai government is now “rethinking its plans” and “seeking public opinion”. Nevertheless, in Pingyang and other affected neighbourhoods, local police have torn down banners put up by the protesters, and put up their own banners exhorting residents to make their voices heard “through proper channels”. Said one protestor to Sommerville about these “proper channels”:
“The email address they have given us isn’t even a government address, it’s a private email. So how can we go through official channels? There is no proper process.”
Chinese reports say some residents are now complaining that the time window given for the soliciting of public feedback was too short, and they are now asking for a March 5 deadline. Whether this is approved or not, one thing is clear: the Shanghai government will not be able to push through its plans without at least appearing to be really listening to the people. Who knows, this case may well turn a new page in more open, transparent and consultative governance. Here’s hoping.
Previously on Shanghaiist
Shanghai-Hangzhou maglev: don’t call it a come back
Return of the Maglev protests
Maglev protest videos
Anti-Maglev protests derailed
More Maglev protest videos