In the last issue of Dialogue, Dui Hua announced the launch of a new project to catalog China’s “mass incidents,” or cases of popular unrest. Focusing on online news accounts, Dui Hua researchers have already collected information about more than 100 incidents in recent months, and this information is being processed and entered into a database.

In addition to information about individual incidents, Dui Hua research has begun collecting local statistics and secondary sources that discuss the problem posed by mass incidents and, in particular, how they are viewed by Chinese authorities as serious threats to social and political stability. From these sources, we can begin to understand how mass incidents are defined and categorized—for example, see the table and note reproduced here—as well as how Chinese police investigate such incidents and the measures they take to prevent them.

Incidents Politicized by “Meddling”

In an August 2006 article published in the Journal of Political Science and Law, three domestic-security experts from the Guangdong Police College lay out their view of the connection between “hostile forces” and mass incidents. Published around the same time Chinese officials and diplomats were being warned about the dangers of “color revolution” (see Dialogue 25), it provides insight into a “siege mentality” that sees foreign and domestic enemies plotting regime change in China.

The majority of mass incidents in China, the authors claim, originate as public-order disturbances about purely economic issues. Hostile anti-China forces and “hostile elements” within China and overseas then “meddle” in these incidents, transforming economic conflicts into political conflicts and local conflicts into national conflicts—all in order to tarnish the image of the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government and bring about the ultimate overthrow of China’s socialist system.

The United States, write the authors, has thrown support behind China’s “rights protection” (weiquan) movement as part of its larger effort to promote democratic change. Chinese rights defenders get involved in strikes, land disputes, and other forms of collective action. Such “meddling” also takes an indirect form through providing economic support, legal aid, publicity, or other expressions of support for protesters.

Disputes such as the one in Taishi Village in 2005, when hundreds of protesters in that southern Guangdong community pushed for a recall of local elected officials over allegations of improper land deals, become politicized and more difficult to resolve after reports began appearing in the domestic and international media. When The New York Times reported in December of that same year that several thousand armed police had opened fire on protesting villagers in Shanwei’s Dongzhou Village, also located in Guangdong, it served as a “catalyst” and “amplifier” for additional protests that placed extra pressure on the authorities.

Intelligence Key to Prevention

Besides US-backed rights defenders, the authors point to democracy activists, “religious infiltrators,” ethnic separatists, and “cults” as other hostile forces that meddle in mass incidents. So it makes sense that the main job of investigating and dealing with mass incidents has been given to China’s police in charge of domestic (formerly “political”) security, which is also tasked with handling criminal cases involving these types of individuals.

Key to preventing the outbreak of mass incidents—and their transformation into destabilizing political affairs—is expansion of police intelligence-gathering activity. “Stability-maintenance information agents” (weiwen xinxiyuan) are to be recruited from all organizations, work units, and social groupings in order to be the “nerve endings” needed to report on “societal intelligence” to local police for immediate analysis and action.

This sense of threats to stability and attempts to then penetrate deeper into society to root them out are familiar themes in China. As such, the role of social unrest as a breeding ground for subversive activity makes mass incidents a key area for continued research for Dui Hua.