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Popular Protest in the Reform Era: Change, Continuity, Impact Guobin Yang July 4, 2013 East-West Center.

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Presentation on theme: "Popular Protest in the Reform Era: Change, Continuity, Impact Guobin Yang July 4, 2013 East-West Center."— Presentation transcript:

1 Popular Protest in the Reform Era: Change, Continuity, Impact Guobin Yang July 4, 2013 East-West Center

2 I.Introduction II.Major protests in PRC history III. Contemporary forms IV. Causes of contemporary protest V.Continuity and change VI.Impact

3 I.Introduction Some misconceptions about popular protests in China - all about democracy - all anti-government - people are unhappy but cannot/dare not protest because of repression

4 A political culture that legitimated rebellion When asked about rulership, Mencius said: Protect the people.

5 An intelligent ruler will regulate the livelihood of the people, so as to make sure that... in good years they shall always be abundantly satisfied, and that in bad years they shall escape the danger of perishing. The people are the most important element... Therefore to gain the support of the ordinary people is to become emperor. Those who abide by Heaven endure, while those who defy Heaven perish. - Mencius/Mengzi (372 – 289 BCE)

6 Revolution is not a crime; rebellion is justified

7 A popular culture of rebel heroes Water Margins/Outlaws of the March

8 Monkey King

9 II. Major protests before reform Hundred Flowers, 1956 Cultural Revolution, 1966-76 April Fifth incident, 1976

10 Protests during first decade of reform Democracy Wall, 1978-79 Sent-down youth protest, 1978-79 Campus elections, 1980 Student protest, 1986 Student protest, 1989

11 Varieties of protest since the 1990s Environmental Rights defense Online activism Home-owners Demolition Anti-discrimination (HIV/AIDs, Hepatitis-B carriers) Human rights Animal rights Consumer activism Popular nationalism

12 In the 1980s protests for change / modernization "We want to sing a song for the future. We want to light the torch of enlightenment with our own lives." -- Enlightenment, 1978 Fellow students, fellow countrymen, the future and fate of the Chinese nation are intimately linked to each of our hearts. This student movement has but one goal, that is, to facilitate the process of modernization by raising high the banners of democracy and science, by liberating people from the constraints of feudal ideology, and by promoting freedom, human rights, and rule of law. - New May Fourth Manifesto, 1989

13 Since the 1990s, protests in response to consequences of change.

14 III. Contemporary forms Rising frequency and pluralization of forms & issues since the 1990s

15 Forms of protest Collective Individual Rural riots Worker strikes Minority protests Disruptive / Violent / Subversive Non- disruptive Political dissidence Suicides Urban NYMBYism NGO activism Online activism

16 Issue multiplication Traditional types persist: Labor (but new types of workers) Rural Student/intellectual

17 Three faces of environmental activism in China Xinchang, Zhejiang, 2005 Ningbo, 2012

18 NIMBY-style, middle-class environmental protest: 2007: Xiamen (Paraxylene) 2008: Chengdu (PX) 2011: Dalian (PX) 2011: Haimen, Guangdong (power plant) 2012:Ningbo (petrochemical) 2012: Shanghai (trash incinerator) 2012: Shifang, Sichuan (copper plant)


20 Citizens legal private property must not be violated

21 IV. Why? And why these forms of protest? 1)Economic development and social change: -- consequences of development and marketization (ecological degradation, forced relocation) -- social polarization and pluralization (new social groups, new identity concerns) -- corruption

22 2)Institutional channels do not work well Rights to "four bigs protected in 1978 constitution but removed from 1982 constitution: to speak out freely, air views fully, hold great debates, and write big-character posters.

23 -- formal legal system --State Bureau for Letters and Calls (vice ministerial level)

24 Article 1 These Regulations are formulated for the purposes of enhancing relations between the people's governments at all levels and the people, protecting the lawful rights and interests of letterwriters and visitors, and maintaining a good order in letter-writing and visiting. Article 2 The term "letters and visits" in these Regulations means that citizens, legal persons or other organizations give information, make comments or suggestions or lodge complaints to the people's governments at all levels and the relevant departments of the people's governments at or above the county level through correspondence, E- mails, faxes, phone calls, visits, and so on, which are dealt with by the relevant administrative departments according to law. State Council Regulations on Letters and Visits (2005)

25 Letters and visits to Party and government xinfang bureaus at the county level and higher totaled 8,640,040 for the first nine months of 2002, corresponding with an annual rate of 11.5 million per year. In comparison, the entire Chinese judiciary handles six million legal cases annually --Minzer (2006)

26 3) Political opportunities fragmented authoritarianism gaps between central government policies and local implementation Predatory local state as target of rural protest

27 High tide of petitioning to Beijing 2003-2006 coincided with Hu-Wen leadership efforts to distinguish itself from earlier Jiang Zemin leadership --Li, Liu, OBrien (2006)

28 28 Political context of environmental activism: Greening of the state 1989: Environmental Protection Law 2003: Environmental Impact Assessment Law 2004: Cleaner Production Promotion Act 2008: Environmental Information Disclosure Provisional Regulation came into effect 2008 State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) upgraded to Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP)

29 The stability maintenance system - a new bureaucracy on all levels with large budgets - took shape after 1989 The people demand stability. Stability overrides everything. This is the consensus after experiencing last years political disturbance. We must preserve the countrys stability as we would safeguard our own life. We simply cannot do anything detrimental to stability (Peoples Daily 1990).

30 Source: Feng (2013)

31 Xie (2013)


33 4). Growth of civic associations and citizen consciousness New civic organizational basis Registered Civic Organizations 1989200,000 1991110,000 2003142,000 2006360,000

34 Grassroots Groups Number College Student Groups 20,700 High School Student Groups 95,000 Community based Recreational Groups 50,000 Philately 41,000 Other Hobby Groups 130,000 Senior Citizens Schools 17,000 The Elderly Associations 70,000 Home owners Associations 15,000 Religious Groups 170,000 Friendship Groups 50,000 BBS and Virtual Associations 100,000 Sub total 758,700 Grassroots Groups without registration Source: Wang and He (2004)

35 Official Formal Government-organized NGOs Quasi-NGOs (Research centers, Business entities) Registered NGOs Web groups Non-web groups Informal Non-official College students associations Flexible and diverse organizational forms

36 20052008 Total: 2,7683,539 GONGOs:1,382 (50%)1309 (37%) Grassroots:202 (7.3%)508 (14%) Student groups:1,116 (40.3%)1382 (39%) INGOs in China:68 (2.5%)90 (2.5%) Source: All-China Environmental Federation surveys, 2005, 2008

37 5). Diverse forms of action, primarily non-confrontational Non-confrontational NGO-led media campaigns Litigation Internet activism

38 6) Protest leadership Protest leaders emerge in two main ways. Long-standing public figures initiate popular action on their own or in response to requests from other villagers; and ordinary villagers evolve into protest leaders when efforts to seek redress for a personal grievance fail. Rural officials sometimes attempt to co-opt or buy off protest leaders, but more often turn to repression. Although cracking down may inhibit further contention, at other times it firms up the determination of protest leaders and makes them more prone to adopt confrontational tactics. (Li and OBrien 2008)

39 Protest leaders were articulate and public-spirited peasants who had received political training from the local party-state. Protests led by less educated veteran Communist Party cadres tended to be milder and smaller than those led by better-educated peasants more distant from the local party-state. (Zhang 2013)


41 Other factors International influences (e.g ENGOs, Ai Weiwei) New communication technologies

42 V. Continuity and change 1) Influence of CR on repertoire and mentality --e.g. worker protests invoking Mao slogans and rhetoric --the rebel mentality/culture

43 2). Each major movement produced its own veterans who would continue to be politically engaged Former activists from 1980s continue with their cause: Liu Xiaobo, Tiananmen Mothers Movement c.f. 60s activists in the West

44 3) What has changed?

45 New forms New issues New actors New grievances new demands

46 Style and rhetoric of collective action in 1980s Demonstrations Rallies Hunger strikes Petitions Wall-posters Sit-ins Occupation of public spaces

47 Democracy Wall 1978-79 "We want to sing a song for the future. We want to light the torch of enlightenment with our own lives." -- Enlightenment, 1978 "We have launched this journal in the hope that it will air the voice of the people, raise the ideological level of the people, promote social modernization and speed up the process of the four modernizations." -- Democracy and Times, 1978.

48 1989 Our ancient, thousand-year civilization is waiting, our great people, one billion strong, are watching. What qualms can we possibly have? What is there to fear? Fellow students, fellow countrymen, here at richly symbolic Tiananmen, let us once again search together and struggle together for democracy, for science, for freedom, for human rights, and for rule by law. Let our cries awaken our young Republic! -- New May Fourth Manifesto, May 4, 1989.

49 A new style: prosaic or playful

50 2005 We have been informed that the Central Governments planning and environmental departments have reviewed the hydropower development plans for the Nujiang. We think that the EIA for a project such as this that affects the interests of this and future generations, that has attracted worldwide attention, and that carries potentially huge impacts should be publicly disclosed and decided with sufficient prior informed consent and evaluation, following the requirements of the relevant law and the guiding principles of the State Council. -- Call for public disclosure of Nujiang hydropower developments EIA report in accordance with the law, 31 August 2005. Signed by 61 NGOs and 99 individuals

51 The commercial real estate prices in Shenzhen are surging at astonishing speed…. Is this because the developers costs are rising? Let us calculate their costs. For low-level apartments, the costs are land price + construction costs at 2,000 yuan / square meter. For high- rise apartments, the costs are land price + construction costs at 2,500 yuan / square meter. Suppose here is a plot. The land price is 3,000 yuan / square meter. For constructing a high-rise apartment building, the developers costs are 3,000 yuan / square meter + 2,500 yuan/square meter = 5,500 yuan/square meter. In reality, I discovered in the sales offices of the new buildings in Futian and Luohu that the price exceeds 9,000 yuan per square meter and some exceed 10,000 yuan. If developers sell them at 10,000 per square meter, their profits are obvious. The money we make with our blood and sweat is robbed from us just like that. -- A bloggers open letter calling for a movement to boycott home- buying, 2006.


53 Song of Grass-mud Horse

54 VI. Impact

55 Concrete gains (wages, pension, etc) Policy changes New issues and forms of struggle Changes in attitudes toward authority State responses to protest

56 limited in size, scale, and scope the least revolutionary and most rebellious nation on earth Yet, as long as party-state retains capacity to fragment society, likelihood of a serious revolutionary challenge is slim (Perry, p. 214)

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