China is no stranger to popular uprisings, but current protests in Guangdong province are unlike any in recent memory. Activists in the village of Wukan have been fighting the corrupt seizure of land for commercial development for years, but when their most prominent legal advocate was killed in police custody the entire village (pop. 10,000) openly revolted. After ejecting the local government and police force, they demanded the right to elect their own village council.
Nearby, in Haimen (pop. 120,000), tens of thousands of protesters occupied a highway (until they were dispersed by tear gas and riot police) to signal their opposition to the construction of yet another coal plant in their community. I’m not aware of any recent protests with environmental concerns as explicit as these:
On Thursday, riot police sent teargas into an open space to hold back a large band of protesters on motorbikes, according to footage shown on Hong Kong’s Cable TV. As smoke billowed towards the crowd, some protesters could be seen riding away quickly.
A Reuters witness earlier saw that about 100 men on motorbikes had gathered to watch the wall of police, armed with batons and shields, who were blocking the highway near a large, shuttered petrol station.
“What place in the world builds two power plants within one kilometre?” said one of the Haimen residents as he watched police lines a few hundred metres away.
“The factories are hazardous to our health. Our fish are dying and there are so many people who’ve got cancer,” he said.