Dui Hua’s Mass Incident Monitor tracks unrest in China and those detained for their participation in these events. Monitoring these events allows for a greater understanding in how Chinese police investigate such incidents and the measures they take to prevent them. Key to preventing the outbreak of mass incidents—and their transformation into destabilizing political affairs—is expansion of police intelligence-gathering activity. The role of social unrest as a breeding ground for subversive activity makes mass incidents a key area for continued research for Dui Hua.
Government’s Plan to Demolish Sanctuary Provoked Thousands of Catholics to Crawl Up Mountain in Dong’ergou, Shanxi
September 15, 2019
Location: Taiyuan, Shanxi
Participants: Estimates from various news sources vary, running as high as 10,000
By some estimates nearly ten thousand Catholic pilgrims travelled to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows (Qikushengmutang,七苦聖母堂) sitting atop of the Mount of the Seven Sorrows (七苦山) in Dong’ergou, Taiyuan, to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15, 2019. This year, the pilgrims were alarmed by the imminent demolition of a structure at the Shrine, an order by the local government to the Taiyuan Diocese in late August 2019. Dong’ergou is a strongly Catholic region with many structures and sites sacred to local people.
On August 26, 2019, the local authorities instructed state-approved Bishop Paul Meng Ningyou (孟宁友) of the Taiyuan Diocese under the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association to demolish an arch of the Shrine called the “Gate of Heaven” (Shangtianzimen,上天之门) on the grounds of “unlawful land occupation” (feifazhandi, 非法占地). Bishop Meng has been negotiating to preserve the landmark and succeeded in postponing the demolition until early October 2019. The authorities, however, not only forbade the local diocese to organize the annual pilgrimage, but also set up roadblocks and implemented traffic control measures to prevent pilgrims from reaching the Dong’ergou Marian Shrine. Ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, social stability in the area was a top priority for the local authorities. On the day of the Feast, pilgrims who circumvented the restrictions spent hours walking uphill for at least three kilometers to reach the Shrine. There were no protests per se, as the authorities might have feared.
Several days before the Feast, on September 11, about one hundred Catholics crawled up to the Shrine, hoping that their hardship and prayer would be rewarded with a cancellation of the demolition plan.
It is not the first time that the local authorities announced plans to eradicate structures on the Mount of the Seven Sorrows. Last year, statues of the Twelve Apostles on the hilltop were forcibly removed. Despite the signing of the Sino-Vatican agreement in September 2018, the Chinese government launched a five-year campaign to sinicize religions early that year. Chinese practices are to be incorporated into Catholic practices, while structures and symbols that appear too religious are to be removed. The impact of sinicization has extended far beyond underground churches to the government-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
(Photo: Pilgrims crawling to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, Shanxi. Photo Credit: RFA)
Site Selection of an Incineration Plant Project Triggered Protests and Violent Suppression
June 28 – July 5, 2019
Location: Xinzhou District, Wuhan, Hubei
Participants: Estimates from various news sources vary, running as high as 10,000
News media reports claimed that up to ten thousand residents of Xinzhou District, Wuhan, took to the streets for at least one whole week from June 28 to July 5 to protest against the site selection of an incineration plant project. It is unclear as of this writing when the protests ended and whether the local government has yielded to public demand to terminate the incinerator project.
The Chenjiachong landfill, full to bursting with solid waste from over 300,000 residents in Yangluo subdistrict and nearby areas over the last decade, has been slammed for causing air pollution affecting nearby residents and even contaminating underground water. In May 2019, a report from a development research institute in Wuhan briefly revealed the government’s plan to replace the landfill by an economy-eco industrial park that would allegedly combine recreation and incineration. Wuhan’s urban management administration later responded to an online inquiry in June: an incinerator slated for construction in September would replace the landfill scheduled to cease operation in 2020. The decision, which only became public knowledge through the online response, did not receive any public comments.
On June 28, the Xinzhou District government announced on its official Weibo account the decision to hold off construction until a consensus among residents is reached. Residents concerned about cancerous gas emission and the exacerbation of Yangtze River pollution massed on the streets for days to voice objections to the proposed incinerator while holding banners with slogans such as “air pollution will harm the next generations.” Riot police with shields and batons were deployed to disperse protesters. In a letter issued on July 3, the Xinzhou government agreed not to push through the incinerator project without first conducting an environmental assessment and receiving public comments. It also reiterated that “the project will never start if people disagree with it.” The letter or other updates on the project, however, cannot be found on the Xinzhou government website nor its Weibo account as of September 2019.
Incinerator proposals in China have long been a major source of environmental concern, sparking scores of incidents of unrest despite authorities’ promise to put them on hold, including the Yunfu protest Dui Hua previously reported in June. While the incident garnered widespread media attention in early July not long after its outbreak, censorship on social media has prevented Wuhan locals from circulating updates about the protest. The status of the incinerator in Xinzhou remains unclear. Chinese state media cited anonymous analysts as saying that insufficient communication between the government and public, and the lack of transparent pollution data were the major reasons for public resentment. State media also commented that “allowing residents to participate in accessing and supervising the project from the beginning could help ease concern and build public confidence.”
(Photo: Protests over a proposed incinerator project, Wuhan. Image Credit: Weibo)
Site Selection of an Incineration Plant Project Abolished After a Four-day Protest
June 19-23, 2019
Location: Yu’nan County, Yunfu, Guangdong
Participants: Around 20,000
On June 22 around 20,000 people from Yu’nan County in Yunfu, Guangdong blocked the Guangxi-bound highway to protest a waste incinerator project, according to news media sources. While SWAT police with riot shields attempted to clear the highway, protesters responded by throwing water bottles and the like. This was the major clash during a four-day-long protest beginning on June 19. The county government announced its decision to cancel site selection of the incinerator plant on June 23.
The incinerator was set to be located less than one kilometer away from nearby towns in Yu’nan County. Members of the public were only allowed to mail their opinions on site selection to the county government within the 10-day commenting period. Failure to do so would be considered an abstention. As the government did not respond to their opinions, local residents took to the streets to protest the plant project and attempted to stop the construction. They feared that the plant would emit highly cancerous waste gas with dioxin, causing soil and water pollution and contaminating food chains. During the protest, elderly people, students, and children held signs and banners rejecting the proposal on the basis that the incinerator would harm future generations. Although the plant was said to have the capacity to turn waste into energy, opponents suspected that other localities would also dump waste into their hometown. After the clashes, on June 22 the government announced that the project would be shelved, but protesters refused to accept the vague promise. The next day, the government announced the official cancellation of site selection.
As of February 2019, China has built more than 400 incinerators over the past ten years and is building 170 more. The 13th Five-Year Plan in 2016 set a goal to increase the use of incineration for waste disposal by the end of 2020. Implementation of the national policy, however, has met with fierce local resistance. Guangdong, China’s most populous province, has at least 40 incinerators. From 2014 to 2017, mass protests against the project proposals took place in such localities as Huizhou, Zhaoqing, and Qingyuan. The most violent one erupted in 2015 in Luoding, a county-level city also under Yunfu. The Luoding government signed an incinerator construction contract with China Resources Cement Holdings Limited without public notice or conducting a proper environmental assessment. Brutal law enforcement enraged tens of thousands of residents, who surrounded government buildings and even attacked police vehicles and police stations. The Luoding city government consequently backed down and terminated the contract.
Catholics Defend Marian Shrine
April 10, 2019
Location: Fengxiang County, Shaanxi
Participants: About two hundred
In April 2019, about two hundred Catholics held a sit-in protest to prevent the Marian Shrine of Mujiaping in Fengxiang County, Shaanxi from being destroyed. The demolition reflects the local government’s attempt to tighten its control over Catholic affairs in the Fengxiang County Catholic Diocese. The protestors were unhappy about further demolitions of Catholic buildings by the local government.
On the morning of April 10, over six hundred government cadres and policemen were dispatched to Mujiaping Village, Fengxiang, to demolish the Marian Shrine. Knowing full well of the scheduled demolition, two hundred Catholics gathered in front of the shrine. The Marian Shrine was the second Catholic building that the government planned to destroy. A week before, the Qianyang Church in the same diocese was demolished. The authorities are planning to destroy at least three more church buildings in Fengxiang.
The Fengxiang County Catholic Diocese was the only diocese in China where neither the bishop nor the faithful are members of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA, 中国天主教爱国会), the only Catholic organization recognized by the Chinese government. The CPCA oversees all Catholic affairs in Mainland China, excluding Hong Kong and Macau, which retain ties to the Vatican. The CPCA forms a system of joint meetings together with the Conference of Bishops of Catholic Churches in China to decide policies on Catholicism in the country.
Han Yingjin (韩英进), the officially-appointed bishop of Shaanxi province, pushed forward the demolition of church buildings in Fengxiang, allegedly because many of them had been built without the government’s approval. He also called on Christians in the Fengxiang Diocese to learn more about the official church and communicate more with the government. He hopes to develop a smooth relationship between the Christians in the diocese and the official church.
At the time of writing, there have been no more updates about the sit-in protest. The status of the shrine remains unknown.
Moneylenders Protest After Closure of Online Peer-to-peer Lending Site
April 5-7, 2019
Location: Dongguan, Guangdong
Participants: More than one thousand
On April 5, 2019, more than 1000 moneylenders from various cities gathered in Dongguan, Guangdong. They launched a sit-in protest against the closure of the online peer-to-peer (P2P) lending website tuandai.com. Armed riot police were deployed to forcibly remove the moneylenders and put them onto buses. Protestors feared that their money could never be recovered after the shutdown of the P2P website.
P2P websites act as an intermediary to match borrowers with lenders. Lenders are free to choose borrowers and determine the loan amount through P2P matchmaking sites. In recent years, the websites have gained traction among members of China’s middle class, who often invest their lifelong savings in hope of earning high returns. Some borrowers use loans to venture into businesses or illicit investments in the stock market. Once worth over a trillion yuan, China’s P2P industry began to collapse in 2018. Bad debts, fraud, multiple borrowing, disappearance of borrowers, low credibility of the sites, illegal businesses, and unfavorable market sentiment are among the factors causing the collapse.
Tuandai.com had more than eight million registered users, 220,000 lenders, and 14.5 billion yuan (US$2.15 billion) in outstanding loans as of February 2019. The website was closed by the authorities in March 2019 on the grounds of fraud and illegal fundraising. The owners turned themselves in to the police. As investors were unable to reclaim their money and deposits, they protested in downtown Dongguan, Guangdong, where the firm’s head office was located. Sit-in protesters in front of the city’s government building were forcibly put on buses by riot police, and from there taken into custody. Protesters believed to be Tuandai investors by police were also taken to undergo “psychological therapy.” At the time of writing, it is unclear what kind of treatment the protesters received in the “therapy.”
By the end of May, Dongguan police had arrested over 40 suspects in connection with fraud or illegal fundraising and recorded over 150,000 affected registered users. In conjunction with the investigation, 800 debt collectors from tuandai.com cooperated with police to call and text borrowers to pay off their debts.
Parents Protest Rotten School Food
March 13, 2019
Location: Chengdu, Sichuan
In March 2019, hundreds of parents protested in Chengdu, Sichuan, over the provision of rotten food at the private Chengdu No. 7 Experimental High School. The protest was sparked when some parents discovered on March 12 that the school canteen was providing moldy food for the students.
On March 12, a number of parents had posted photos and video clips of the rotten food online, complaining complained that the school not only provided frozen meat and instant food, but also moldy and expired food to its students. They were dissatisfied with the poor hygiene in the canteen’s kitchen as well. Some parents even connected their children’s health problems such as prolonged diarrhea and hematochezia with the rotten food they ate. The parents were particularly discontented because the private school charges high tuition fees — 39,000 yuan a year. It has also been designated a model school in the province. They did not expect such low quality food.
On the following day, hundreds of parents marched along a main road in Chengdu and gathered outside the school gates and demanded an explanation from the school. Some of them even knelt down, hoping that the local Wenjiang district government would intervene and investigate the issue. The government, however, regarded the protest as interrupting normal social order and disrupting traffic. According to government reports, the police first warned the protestors, who responded with violence and swearing. The police then dispersed the protestors with brute force and pepper spray. Twelve people were arrested. They were released on the same day after showing repentance. Several days later, the schoolmaster of the high school was fired. Several responsible government officials in the Wenjiang district were put under investigation. The school apologized for providing the rotten food, and the Chengdu city government promised to launch a comprehensive investigation into school canteens throughout city.
However, on the same day as the protest, three parents were arrested for faking the photos. The government accused them of spraying turmeric powder and red fermented rice on the frozen food, and based the accusation on footage provided by closed-circuit cameras in the school.
Protest by Students in Hubei
March 11, 2019
Location: Tianmen, Hubei
Participants: About one thousand
On March 11, 2019, about one thousand students from the Tianmen Vocational College protested in Tianmen, Hubei Province. They claimed that the college had made a mistake, causing them to be disqualified to sit for the 2019 Technique–based National Higher Education Entrance Examination (技能型高考), focused on the students’ ability to control machines.
Holding banners and chanting the slogan “I want my Higher Education Entrance Examination! Return my dream to me!” the students marched along the streets and headed towards the city government building, where the Department of Education is located. Soon after the demonstration began, however, police forces were dispatched to stop the protestors from proceeding. Riot control vehicles were sent to block their way. Students at the front were beaten by armed police when they attempted to reach the vehicles. Many of them were injured. A female student’s injuries were so painful that she was unable to get up after being knocked down.
The high school students are likely frustrated because the college has failed to enroll the students in the examination. The college has changed the “origin of student registration” (xueji) for them, but it has misled the students that it was not necessary to change the hukou as well (China’s system of household registration, by which citizens are legally linked to specific geographic areas that also have crucial implications for many aspects of their lives, including for which schools and universities they are eligible). Under the new regulation of the Hubei authorities introduced in 2019, one’s xueji must correspond to one’s hukou if one wants to take the exam in Hubei. Some students are furious as well because they have already paid the full tuition fees for three years so that they can take the examination in 2019. A legal expert explains that the college may have violated the law if it intentionally charges tuition fees for making unrealizable promises, in which case the relevant personnel can be charged with fraud.
Workers Suffering from Silicosis Protest for Medical Compensation in Different Places
January – March 2019
Location: Luoyang, Henan; Zhangjiajie, Hunan
Participants: Over one hundred
In the first quarter of 2019, workers suffering from silicosis continued their protests for medical compensation. There are mainly two groups of workers demanding fair treatment from the government. The first group is from Sangzhi County, Hunan, and the second group is from Ziyang County, Shaanxi.
Thirty-three people working on construction sites from the Hunan group who petitioned the Shenzhen government in last November were dispatched from Shenzhen, where they had been working, back to Sangzhi County by force in early January. The Shenzhen government promised to pay each of them ¥1070 per month, but never did so. In the end, each worker received ¥259 per month from the Sangzhi County government instead. On February 1, eighty workers petitioned the county government for more compensation. The county government, however, stated that they could only raise the amount to ¥500 at most, as “relief money.” An official even warned the workers not to petition anymore or “something bad” will happen to their children.
On March 3 and 4, over fifty workers from Ziyang County, Shaanxi, travelled to Luoyang, Henan. They gathered at railway stations and squares in order to draw public attention to the risk of industrial dust. Many of them have been using pneumatic drills in their workplace in Yiyang County, Henan, and contracted silicosis due to the lack of protective measures. They petitioned the Yiyang County government, asking for medical compensation and provision of protective gear in the workplace.
Silicosis has been a serious disease among factory workers in China for years. Most of the them are from China’s central and western provinces.
Smartphone Touchscreen Maker Lays Off Eight Thousand Factory Workers
November 16 – 17 2018
Participants: 5,000 workers
Biel Crystal, one of the largest suppliers of touchscreens to smartphone giants Apple and Samsung allegedly laid off more than 8,000 workers in November 2018. Since the start of the US-China trade war, Chinese coastal cities such as Shenzhen that are heavily reliant on manufacturing and export have taken the greatest hit. The company failed to reach an agreement with former employees and refused to meet their demands for workers compensation, which is mandated by the Labor Law.
Hundreds of workers protested outside at the company’s Huizhou factory gates on November 9, demanding to negotiate compensation packages with Biel Crystal. Some of the workers’ family members joined the protests. The South China Morning Post reported on November 16 that almost 10,000 people gathered outside the factory where they clashed with police.
Hunan Workers Suffering from Silicosis Protest for Medical Compensation
November 5-8, 2018
Participants: More than 300
Hundreds of Hunan workers petitioned the Shenzhen government in Guangdong demanding compensation for medical costs associated with contracting silicosis, an incurable lung disease caused by prolonged inhalation of airborne silica dust. Workers contracted the disease while working on construction sites in the metropolis during the 1990s and 2000s.
On November 5, Hunan workers organized a sit-in protest outside the Shenzhen Social Security Bureau. The protestors’ called on authorities to address their demands for medical compensation. Protestors marched to the municipal government offices, demanding to meet with the mayor. Conflict broke out at night when a female worker tried to stop police from collecting video footage of the protestors. Officers used batons and pepper-stray to disperse the crowds, leaving several injured. After protestors threatened to jump off a bridge in response to the heavy policing, government representatives agreed to meet with the workers and discuss their demands on November 9.
Over the years, 720,000 workers in China have been diagnosed with silicosis. Experts estimate that the total number of people impacted by the disease likely stands at six million, with most sufferers being migrant workers from the central and western regions of China. Workers without an employment contract face significant challenges in successfully claiming compensation for occupational illnesses. It is estimated that only 9.5% of silicosis sufferers had employment contracts at the time of contracting the disease.
Veterans Protest Police Brutality
October 4-7, 2018
Location: Pingdu, Shandong
In October 2018, hundreds of veterans protested in Pingdu, Shandong over reports of police brutality against veterans who petitioned the government for welfare benefits. The protest in Shandong was sparked when a group of 38 elderly veterans traveled to Beijing to petition the government. The petitioners clashed with police, with some sustaining injuries. The petitioners were forcibly sent back to Pingdu by authorities. After the story broke, more than 300 veterans from across China gathered in Pingdu to protest. The protest was cordoned off on October 8; police placed roadblocks at dozens of intersections around the protests and a city-wide lockdown was enforced. Local residents were directed away from the protest site where protestors were kettled by police. Police clashed with protestors, but no serious incidents were reported. The protestors were either escorted back home, taken on “forced vacations,” and some were reportedly detained.
In early December, CCTV, China’s state media, finally reported on the October 4 – 7 protests in Shandong. They described the protests as a “serious violent criminal case” organized under the guise of concerned “military veterans.” Ten veterans have been reportedly detained since the protests.
In recent years, veterans across China have been protesting for better access to welfare benefits and other forms of government assistance. The Ministry of Veterans Affairs was established in March 2018 in response to widespread grievances. Fair access to military pensions and other forms of social insurance is an issue impacting many people in China.