June 5, 2004

Protests now flourish in China

Wow, the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre passed yesterday. In some respects it feels like it was just yesterday, and in others, because of its indelible mark on culture and society, it feels much longer than that. I certainly remember it very clearly. I was getting ready for my highschool graduation when I heard the news. I was devastated, particularly after the seemingly encouraging news of student protests. For me personally the moment marked a kind of political loss of innocence, and I my take on many things have never been the same since.

But 15 years later, it would appear that the grassroots urge to democratize China is still strong.

Murray Scot Tanner reports in the International Herald Tribune that Beijing is again confronting a growing volume of popular protest. Interestingly, reports of this widespread protest are being confirmed by China's own police forces, which used to routinely deny permission for most protest demonstrations. Tanner writes:
Recent official police statistics are striking. The number of demonstrations increased from 8,700 to 32,000 from 1993 to 1999 - an increase of 268 percent. The number probably swelled past 40,000 in 2000. In no year during this period did protests increase by less than 9 percent, and in the financial crisis years of 1997 and 1998 they spiked by 25 and 67 percent, respectively.

Though we lack nationwide data for the years since 2000, Chinese government reports indicate that the number of public protests has probably risen each of the last three years. Sichuan, China's largest province, apparently saw an increase in protests of almost 20 percent last year, to nearly 1,500.
In particular, the Chinese are protesting a number of things, including the undemocratic communist regime, "grievances against rapacious managers and corrupt local officials," and unfair working and economic conditions.

Tanner shows how Chinese protesters are getting more sophisticated in their tactics, showing a brave kind of maturity in the face of severe reprimands.

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