Tue, Nov 09, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: China totters on the brink of chaos

The mass protests that have been occurring in China of late not only pose a serious challenge to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but have seen an escalation in both their scale and frequency. Accor-ding to the CCP magazine Outlook, there were more than 58,000 mass protests throughout China last year, an average of 160 a day. Police reports also indicate that these protests are becoming ever more serious, and that the frequency of attacks on government officials is also increasing. Events in the past month have been cause for concern.

Almost 10,000 people took to the streets of Bangfo city, Anhui Province, gathering on the city's main thoroughfares as part of a demonstration that brought traffic in the city to a standstill. They were protesting the fact that pensions were rising below the rate of the increase in the cost of living, making it more and more difficult to get by. In Zhongmou county, Zhengzhou, Henan Province, conflict between the Han Chinese and Hui Muslim minority broke out at the end of last month, when thousands of Chinese farmers surrounded a Hui village and began a bloody attack that was only stopped when officials declared martial law in the area. This had all originated in an accident in which a Hui driver had hit and killed a Chinese.

In Wanzhou in Chongqing, a government official tried to extricate himself from an altercation with a porter by paying his way out, arousing public indignation. As far as the people were concerned, this was a case of an official abusing his rights in order to mistreat a commoner. Tens of thousands of residents took to the streets, surrounding government buildings and torching police cars and fire engines. In the end over a thousand armed riot police had to be mobilized in order to quell the unrest. Around 100,000 farmers in Hanyuan County, Sichuan Province, gathered to demand compensation for the construction of a dam, originally earmarked for them, that failed to appear. The ensuing clashes with the police created chaos that only ended after three days.

The causes of these disturbances have included misdeeds by officials, as well as conflicts between the Han and minority groups. This has led to a response from those who feel most oppressed. Agricultural workers, whose incomes lag behind those of the rest of the country, are already unsatisfied by the huge discrepancy in income. When their land is taken from them without adequate compensation (or disappears into the pockets of officials), they are pushed to the brink and it takes only a spark to set off a conflagration.

China's leaders are aware of the challenges and threats posed by these mass protests to the rule of the Communist Party, and have repeatedly called on officials to serve the fundamental interests of the people. But China's society is now seriously unbalanced, and development on the political and social fronts has not been able to keep pace with China's rapid economic growth. In addition, the gulf between the prosperous coastal regions and the poorer inland areas has been exacerbated by poor communications, differences in political and economic situations have caused an increase in incidents of friction between various ethnic groups and a backward and conservative administration is unable to keep up with the pace of social change. All these factors have made China into a pressure cooker which might explode at any moment.

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