Friday, January 9, 2009

Protests in China


Carrefour protest in Beijing

China has witnessed a visible increase over the past ten years in the number of protests, demonstrations, and riots over a variety of issues. Areas of social problems that have stimulated collective protests include factory conditions, non-payment of wages, factory closures, environmental problems (both large and small), and land and property takeovers by developers and the state.

It isn't surprising that social conditions in China have given rise to causes of protest. Rapid growth has stimulated large movements of people and migrant workers, development has created massive environmental problems for localities, and opportunities for development have created conflicts between developers and local people over land and property rights. Following the terrible earthquake in Sichuan and the collapse of many buildings and schools with tragic loss of life, there was a wave of angry protests by parents against corrupt building practices. So there are plenty of possible causes for protest in China today.

What is more surprising, though, is that the state has not been successful so far in muzzling protest, or in keeping news of local protests from reaching the international public.

We might say that the presence of protest in a society is actually a sign of rough and ready democracy as well: it indicates that public opinion is important and can be mobilized, it suggests that the state is unwilling to use the most repressive means available to crush protest, and it suggests that the state can be affected by public protest. So the rising frequency of protest in China might be seen as evidence of a growing importance of the sphere of civil society within Chinese politics.

YouTube provides a surprisingly wide window on protests in China today. It's worth viewing a sampling of clips from YouTube that surface when one searches for Chinese protest:

Unemployment for Chinese migrant workers



Labor protest in Shanghai



Shoe factory protest for back wages



Environmental protest in Xiamen



Protest about water pollution in Xiamen



Parents protesting children's death in Sichuan



Will the sociology of the future be able to use the contents of YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook as an important empirical indicator of social change in societies such as China, Malaysia, or Russia?

2 comments:

Jen said...

great blog! what are your thoughts on the recent economic downturn's effects on China's labor force and the increased labor protests' effects on the CCP?

Daniel Little said...

Jen, From the press reports it appears that there are more and more industrial and labor protests, as factories lay off workers and employers sometimes refuse to pay back wages. See the next posting on Charter 08 -- though this appears to be something that intellectuals are paying attention to rather than ordinary people.