Getting stuff done before the dog days

Some people (like me) would argue that we are already in the dog days of summer. I dread going outside before 8 at night, so I don’t know what I will do come July and August. You’d think other Chinese might be like me, too lazy from the heat to do anything. But, no, they are just stirring up trouble:

A wave of violent unrest in urban areas of China over the past three weeks is testing the Communist Party’s efforts to maintain control over an increasingly complex and fractious society, forcing it to repeatedly deploy its massive security forces to contain public anger over economic and political grievances.

The most recent protest started Friday in Zengcheng, a factory “town” of 800,000 in southern China near Guangzhou, and lasted until Monday. Security guards personnel clashed with a street vendor couple, claiming the couple had “illegally” set up shop. (Does this sound familiar?) In the kerfuffle, the pregnant wife was pushed and fell to the ground. A large crowd, which the China Daily says was as large as 1,000 people at one point, gathered and turned violent, smashing police cars and throwing stones and bricks at police and the guards. Rumors spread that the wife was injured and the husband was killed (both untrue, says state media), but protests continued through the weekend. The government responded with tear gas, armored vehicles, arrests and an investigation into the incident.

Other violent protests in the past month or so include bombings of government buildings in two cities, which killed five total, ethnic clashes in Inner Mongolia and one in Lichuan after a bureaucrat who was challenging a land deal died in police custody.

Social unrest has grown markedly over the last half-decade, from 60,000 “mass incidents” in 2006 to an estimated 127,000 in 2008. But they are usually isolated, local incidents, and the WSJ article duly notes that the protests this past month appear uncoordinated. In fact, there is almost a cycle to them: a spark ticks off some angry citizens, who protest and are put down by an iron-fisted government.

None of these protests aimed to overthrow the government or Communist Party, and despite similar beginnings — a small protest of the government abuse of power — they did not approach anywhere near the scale of protests in the Middle East. Would they have had they not been effectively squashed by the government? As the WSJ article notes, the Global Times says in an editorial that “China is not a nation where public anger collectively seeks to topple the existing order” (emphasis theirs). My instinct is that they’re right, for now. The government is quick to make amends, by removing officials, launching investigations and bringing fruit baskets to their victims and making a big deal out of that. People here have so far been easily appeased. Life then moves on.

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