More evidence of social unrest in China this week. As reported in last week’s issue of WiC there have been a number of incidents reaching the headlines recently. Ethnic tension in Inner Mongolia, and the fatal bombings in Fuzhou, have been followed this week by violence in China’s southern manufacturing hub.
The Apple Daily reported on Tuesday that there had been six days of street disturbances in Chaozhou, a city in Guangdong, involving hundreds of Sichuanese migrant workers. A police station even came under attack, and riot police from nearby Shantou had to be drafted in to restore order.
As per usual, a media blackout prevailed while the rioting was taking place, although news of the incident crept out through a few weibo (a local Twitter-like service), before being blocked.
In this case, the unrest resembled the labour disputes of last summer – although rather than striking for more pay, the migrants were protesting at the way one of their fellow workers had been assaulted.
The details remain sketchy, but the initial incident is thought to have occurred at the Huayi Ceramics Factory where a large number of the workforce comes from Sichuan province.
One of these workers, named Xiong, asked for his unpaid salary and a heated dispute ensued. A relative of the factory owner hit Xiong over the head with a chair. When Xiong said he would go to the police, his hamstrings were cut with a knife.
Xiong’s father was also there, and was beaten.
When other Sichuanese workers at the factory heard what had happened (and that there was no sign of police intervening), the unrest began. The situation only began to calm when Xiong was given Rmb3,000 in compensation.
Rather obliquely, Global Finance blamed the property market for the unrest. Thanks to government attempts to cool the housing market, demand for ceramic products has dropped significantly. The fall in orders meant the factory’s finances were in such a bad state that its owner had fired workers and refused to pay salaries. That’s when the dispute with Xiong and his father arose.
The Chaozhou incident is further anecdotal evidence of some of the strains within President Hu’s vision of a “harmonious society”.
“At some stage China is likely to hit a crisis,” Gideon Rachman warned in his Financial Times column this week. He didn’t cite events in Chaozhou but did note: “Both China’s economy and its political systems have frightening transitions ahead.”
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