Qidong is an urban area just to the north of Shanghai on the northern side of the Yangtze estuary. So it’s wealthy by Chinese standards, but not that wealthy: back in 2009 its government was caught out in a hilariously crude exercise in box ticking, CPC style.
Of course, it’s also very near a first tier city. Think of it as Oakland to Shanghai’s San Francisco. It’s the kind of area that would welcome a Japanese paper mill as a contribution to economic development, but also the kind of area that has a population with the technological resources and bedrock awareness of environmental issues such that it would be capable of organizing against said paper mill’s plans to build a pipeline dumping its waste in the sea: the point I’m making about technological resources is that Qidong is a fully urbanized area and, while the figures are all over the place with a maximum bound of around 100,000, the protest that resulted was too large to be organized by word of mouth. I mean it’s not a 'village' thing, a matter of communication between extended families who know each other, people in the shame shithole factory, neighbours who had been evicted from their farmland or same-dialect groups of migrants.
There was, therefore, a plan here, to connect strangers. Protestors applied for permits (and were turned down) stylized the protest in appropriately ‘appeal to the emperor’ terms -
We firmly support CCP leadership. Chairman Mao taught us to pursuit fair, efficient and sustainable development, Deng Xiaoping taught us to stick to sustainable development. Hu Jintao taught us to have a scientific outlook of development. Local government officials, didn’t you learn these?
- and produced and circulated suitably modern agitprop material (via offbeat China).
Communist dudes! Mao! WTF!
The local government made strenuous efforts to use social media against its opponents. But when the time came for the meat to hit the street, there was a pretty good turnout, with the cops responding with something that looks more like kettling or at least something that looked more like a display of rather than an application of force. But the numbers seemed to be too much for them: around 1000 people stormed and sacked the local government offices and the mayor was mobbed when he tried to speak to his people, losing his shirt in the process.
Rough music then, and I for one am in favour of the debagging of mayors. Apart from anything, they look funnier that way. Also: it got results. The pipeline project was cancelled (well, maybe: Oji Paper, the company concerned, insist that it’s just a delay).
The disaffected segment of the Sinosphere is usually pretty firmly behind local uprisings, but the denouement of the Qidong affair has split opinion on lines that will be familiar to students of insurrection and dictatorship generally. Militant fans of the whole thing extend the ‘they started it’ argument perhaps beyond its immediate utility, while well heeled liberals are a bit alarmed by an outbreak of political violence near a place where they go to for business meetings rather than out there in shitkicker county. Anyway, you have an ongoing public, non-state dialectic.
Current reports allege that Qidong is now on total communications lockdown, that the PAP has arrived in force, and that, as a result, the hospitals are full of blunt force trauma injuries. This may be true. It may be be part of the propaganda war between the government, its opponents, and now different segments of the opposition. All of these things may be true. At any rate, I think we have an indicator that ruler-subject relations may be entering a new phase.