However, the rising tide of protests against big investment projects may put pressure on Beijing to move faster. Almost every region of China has been affected within the past year or so, starting with a protest against a large chemical plant in northeastern China in August last year; the local government promised a crowd it would close that plant, but after the crowds went home, the plant has continued to operate.
Just in the past two weeks, there have been numerous demonstrations against a proposed coal-fired power plant on the southeast coast of the island of Hainan and against the expansion of a petrochemical plant in Ningbo, a port near Shanghai.
Shifang, the site of the canceled copper smelter, is a town full of retirees that had hoped to create more jobs for its young people, instead of sending them off to factories in Chengdu, a 90-minute bus ride to the south, or even to Guangdong in southern China, a 30-hour train ride. Yet many youths joined the protests in July, with some even traveling from nearby towns, and the recent Ningbo protests also attracted many youths.
The re-emergence of youth protests is surprising because in a nation of one-child families, Chinese parents often seek to stop their offspring from participating in political activity because they worry that it will harm their future careers. The Chinese authorities have shown scant tolerance for anyone who travels to another town to participate in a protest.
It is not clear whether Beijing officials will heed further protests around the country or decide instead that they see no other way to stimulate economic growth than to keep fostering ever more heavy industry projects. They appear to be keeping all options open.
On the outskirts of Shifang, there was no sign of work at the smelter site, but a uniformed soldier stood near a heavy steel barrier painted in bright red and white. Large signs warned visitors not to enter.
About 100m past the barrier sat a dozen troop carrier trucks, to make sure no one did.