Monday, April 11, 2005

A Weekend of Rioting

Two kinds of riots took place in China over the weekend: mainly controlled and totally out-of-control.

The mainly controlled riots--which took place in Beijing and the southern cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen--were directed at Japan. Thousands of protesters mobbed Japan's consulate in Guangzhou and a Japanese supermarket in Shenzhen Sunday.

Two Japanese students were attacked in a Shanghai restaurant Sunday, and on Saturday, protesters in Beijing broke windows at the Japanese Embassy.

The unrest was triggered by Tokyo's decision to approve history textbooks that allegedly minimize Japan's brutal occupation of China before and during the Second World War.

It is unlikely the protests could have taken place without government approval, if not outright manipulation and control. The Chinese government is encouraging nationalist tendencies in keeping with its long-range ambition to dominate Asia. Japan and the United States are seen as the main obstacles to realizing this objective.

In sharp contrast to the controlled anti-Japanese violence, the out-of-control riots, which took place in eastern China, were directed at local police. It was the latest in a series of outbreaks of rural violence reflecting growing unrest over official corruption and a widening wealth gap. This is the violence of the left-behind rural poor. The violence that foreign investment bankers and their Chinese hosts avoid discussing.

The violence that spoils the image of the New China.

Reports indicate that thusands of villagers rioted on Sunday in Huankantou, a village in the affluent coastal province of Zhejiang. At least 50 police were injured seriously enough to be rushed to hospital. Some were in critical condition. Four or five villagers were seriously injured.

The rioting began with the deaths of two elderly women who were run over by police cars. They were among some 200 elderly women protesting against factory pollution. For two weeks they had maintained a 24-hour vigil outside an industrial park housing 13 chemical factories. A toxic hell, like so many other Chinese industrial areas. The pollution is so bad, according to villagers, that nearby trees wither and die, vegetables are inedible, and water is poison. The villagers claim that officials have long ignored their plight.

"We have no power," one villager told a reporter. "The government does not care if we live or die."

The weekend police killings were the last staw, apparently. Thousands of villagers fought with police in riot gear. They overturned police cars and threw rocks at police who fled to a local high school. A huge mob of villagers then surrounded the school; hundreds of villagers smashed a wall and charged in.

More than 3,000 police, paramilitary police and security guards were reportedly dispatched to the scene. Dozens of police bus windows were smashed; and many police were injured before order was finally restored.

No comments: