Thousands of protesters marched through an eastern Chinese city yesterday, shouting for fellow citizens to join them in demanding that the Chinese government halt the expansion of a petrochemical factory because of pollution fears.
The demonstration in Ningbo City in wealthy Zhejiang Province is the latest this year sparked by fears of health risks from industrial projects, as Chinese whose living standards have improved become more outspoken against environmentally risky projects.
Such protests are exactly what the Chinese leadership does not want ahead of next month’s once-a-decade transition of power, with stability being paramount.
Hundreds of residents headed from a city square toward the offices of the municipal government early yesterday and were stopped by police at the gate, where they shouted for the release of people reportedly detained a day earlier.
Tensions rose after about 200 riot police walked out of the gate, tore down banners that people had hung in trees and grabbed at least three protesters, carrying them into the government compound.
The protesters threw plastic bottles and chanted “Release the people.”
Some protesters marched away from the offices in an apparent effort to round up more support. Hundreds roamed nearby shopping streets. Police diverted traffic to allow them to pass down a main road.
The protests began a few days earlier in the coastal district of Zhenhai, where the petrochemical factory is located. On Saturday, they swelled and spread to the center of Ningbo City, whose officials oversee Zhenhai.
Residents reported that Saturday’s protests involved thousands of people and turned violent after authorities used tear gas and arrested participants.
Authorities said “a few” people disrupted public order by staging sit-ins, unfurling banners, distributing fliers and obstructing roads. Authorities said that the proposed project was under evaluation and that the public was being given opportunities to offer its input.
The crowds in Ningbo are a slice of China’s rising middle class that poses an increasingly boisterous challenge to the country’s incoming leadership: Armed with expensive smartphones, Internet connectivity and higher expectations than the generations before them, their impatience with the government’s customary lack of response is palpable in every fist pump and rendition of the national anthem they sing.
A 30-year-old woman surnamed Wang (王) said officers took her to a police station on Saturday and made her sign a guarantee that she would not participate in any more protests, but she came back yesterday anyway.
Marchers included the elderly and children, as well as some pet poodles. People held up smartphones and tablet computers recording the protest and tried to send information to others through mobile Internet connections.
In a sign that censors were at work, the name “Zhenhai” — the city district where the factory is located — was blocked on China’s popular microblogging site Sina Weibo, and searches for “chemical expansion project” were greeted with the line “Some search results are not shown according to regulations.”