Around 12,000 gathered to protest on Sunday in the port city of Dalian, China, demanding the relocation of a petrochemical plant. The protests were largely peaceful with only a few “minor scuffles” but no injuries.
The Fujia chemical plant manufactures the toxic petrochemical, paraxylene. During last week’s typhoon, a storm breached a barrier protecting the plant, raising fear of a chemical leak from the factory and prompting the evacuation of some residents. However, the government has reported that no chemical spills have been detected and the breaches were repaired.
Despite this, the government has called for a swift closure of the two year old plant yesterday but has yet to announce where and when it will be relocated. The government’s unusually quick response was an attempt to quell the rapid escalation of public dissent which has spread rapidly on the internet.
This is the first major protest in China to be driven and organised by internet postings on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, and QQ, an instant messaging system. Complaints and calls for protesters to gather on Sunday for a "group stroll" had reportedly been circulating on social networks. This reflects the growing influence of the internet in communicating discontent and to mobilise protestors.
Search terms related to the Dalian protests have been censored on micro-blogging websites in an attempt by the government to prevent the spread of further public resentment.
The peaceful outcome of this protest is highly unusual in China, where protests typically involve more force. For example, a major demonstration that occurred last week in Qianxi, where thousands protested against the conduct of an urban administration official, turned violent. More than 10 police officers were reportedly injured, 10 vehicles were smashed, and another 5 were set on fire.
The Dalian protest mirrored a protest in Xiamen in 2007 which persuaded the municipal government to relocate a paraxylene factory. Rather than the internet, however, the protest was successfully organised using cellphones to spread the message of a mass “stroll”.
Report and Analysis: China bows to plant protestors [WSJ, 15 Aug 2011]
Report: Clashes erupt as China sees first Jasmine type revolution sparked by Internet [Times of India, 15 Aug 2011]
Report: China moves swiftly to close chemical plant after protests [NY Times, 15 Aug 2011]
Report: China protest closes down toxic chemical plant in Dalian [BBC, 15 Aug 2011]