In the Fujian capital of Fuzhou yesterday, a man in his twenties laid down on top of a pickup truck in the middle of a busy intersection, and repeatedly screamed ‘Chengguan are beating people!’ while encircled and protected by people from his home province of Anhui, who were reportedly also victims of chengguan violence.
The impromptu demonstration, which escalated after others also joined the prone protestor on top of the vehicle, drew a sizable crowd and disrupted traffic for approximately three hours. Both regular police and traffic police had to be called to the scene to deal with the situation at the intersection of Guxi Road and Daming Road.
Few other details have emerged regarding the incident, though the specifics are hardly the main story, since chengguan violence is an entrenched fact of life in China’s cities. In August, the urban management corps in Guizhou outdid themselves, by beating a one-legged street vendor to death in broad daylight.
Instead, what we find fascinating is the fact that so much protest in China tends to be passive, which often resembles a form of self-harm or self-humiliation.
Though it might resemble a childish tantrum, we’ve noticed that lying on the ground (or on top of a truck) to protest something seems like a viable option when one is left with no other outlet to address injustice.
Rather than seek help from courts or the police, desperate citizens in China have to opt for a symbolic gesture in which they express their powerlessness and obstinacy, while demanding the attention of onlookers. People know someone’s gotten a raw deal when they’re willing to lose face and resort to an infantile form of complaint. The latest incident in Fuzhou also has the added element of traffic disruption, which has also been effective in drawing attention to one’s plight.
There are, however, far more serious forms of self-harm as protest. It was through mass hunger-striking that Chinese students gained widespread public support in the spring of 1989, though the practice seems to have fallen out of favor in recent years, with a few exceptions here and there.
And then there’s self-immolation, which was mostly seen in protests concerning forced housing demolition, before it became almost wholly associated with Tibetan monks in Sichuan protesting religious oppression in recent months.
We’re hoping that after several more years of reform, eventually an entire month might pass whereby a Chinese citizen doesn’t end up in the news after resorting to passive-aggressively hurting and humiliating themselves in public to seek redress against injustice.