China has experienced a dramatic increase in citizen protests and civil unrest in the past two decades. As aggrieved citizens grow more assertive in their demands, government officials increasingly worry about social instability. Stability maintenance has become an obsession of the Chinese state, a focal point of attention for its political-legal apparatus—namely the Party committee, the police, the courts and China’s unique petition system. Previous research has shown that Chinese citizens adopt a variety of forms of protest, from everyday forms of resistance (e.g. foot-dragging, work stoppage, etc.), to moral economy remonstrations (e.g. pressing for livelihood relief by appealing to traditional and socialist values), to rightful resistance (e.g. protest by appealing to official ideologies and policies). They lodge complaints at every level of the Chinese government, frequently skipping levels to appeal to higher authorities with jurisdiction over their cases. They adopt tactics that cover a wide gamut of action types, including rallies, strikes, sit-ins, road blocking, gate crashing and street violence, administrative litigation, and individual and collective petitions.
H. Christoph Steinhardt
Since the mid-2000s, Chinese citizens have mobilized against high-stakes, governmentbacked developmental projects. Beginning with resistance against a waste incinerator in Beijing in 2006 and a Paraxylene (PX) plant in Xiamen in 2007, instances of preventive contention have proliferated and acquired a peculiar “extra-legal legitimacy” (bu hefa zhong de hefaxing). Aside from waste-treatment facilities and PX plants, other heavy industry plants, power stations, railway projects, nuclear facilities and even crematories have become targets of popular ire. Even though the Chinese one-party state has since the early 1990s grown increasingly accustomed to street protests over livelihood issues, these events appear to have stood out. But, aside from noting their often large-scale nature and the participation of the urban middle class, pinning down more precisely how some of them display new and innovative traits while others may be not so unusual has proven difficult. So far, only a few contributions have begun to address this question. This chapter nudges this debate forward by posing two questions: first, how are major instances of popular environmental resistance similar to or different from other types of protest in China and forms of environmental contention elsewhere? Second, do they constitute a new type of contention in China? To answer these questions, I first outline key attributes of three prominent repertoire concepts: Rightful Resistance, NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard) and Environmental Movement. Taking advantage of the selectivity of the news media, which tend to report cases that are “newsworthy” because they break with established routines, I selected 25 cases of environmental contention between 2007 and late 2016 that have been covered in the New York Times and the South China Morning Post (see Table 15.1). I analyzed them based on additional news reports and Internet materials, existing scholarly research and some interviews with primarily environmental activists.
Edited by Teresa Wright
Edited by Sarah Biddulph and Joshua Rosenzweig
Dragan Pavlićević, Long Sun and Zhengxu Wang
Homeowners’ activism has drawn increasing attention from China-focused scholars. There is a growing body of literature on the individual activism of nail-like households and the collective actions of homeowners in particular communities. Few researchers, however, have paid due attention to horizontal organizational building and collective action cutting across communities, the strategies homeowners have used to expand their organizational outreach and influence, and the implications of these new developments for broader state–society relations in China. This chapter aims to address this research gap. It does so by focusing on the development of the Committee of Beijing Homeowner Associations (CBHA). The CBHA is an organization that initiated the development and institutionalization of horizontal links among homeowner associations (HA) from different communities. Its organizational goals include improvement of property management-related legislation and practice, networking among and exchange between HAs, enhancing of homeowners’ self-governing capacity, and protecting the rights and interests of homeowners. To that end, the CBHA has been organizing meetings and seminars, staging collective petitions, engaging policymakers and government institutions, and assisting homeowners in their rights defense struggles in various ways. It enjoys a broad base of support, with its membership growing quickly from ten homeowners’ associations in March 2006 to 142 (accounting for 24.7 percent of the 574 homeowners’ associations in Beijing) as of July 2008. This growth has continued in subsequent years. As an illustration, in March 2017, over 300 leaders of homeowner associations participated in the Beijing Homeowners Forum—a WeChat group now serving as the main daily communication channel for HAs across Beijing. According to our data and media reports, in 2017 there were 867 HAs in Beijing, which constitutes 28.3 percent of all residential communities in the city.
Since the housing reforms of the late 1980s, China’s urban housing provision system has been commercialized. With accelerated urbanization, the real estate industry has developed rapidly, and commercial housing neighborhoods have sprung up like mushrooms in Chinese cities. The boom of the housing market and the large-scale emergence of new neighborhoods have been accompanied by numerous housing-related disputes. A common cause of these disputes is that real estate developers, property management companies, or local government agencies ignore or violate residents’ interests. When this has occurred, some homeowners have been strongly motivated to defend their rights. Indeed, over the past decade, homeowner rights protection activities frequently have taken place. In order to make their efforts more effective, homeowners who live in the same neighborhood and suffer the same problems have banded together to launch collective actions. However, these collective endeavors have ended with different results. Given almost the same institutional environments, why do some homeowners’ rights protection activities succeed while others fail? Which factors influence the outcome of homeowners’ collective action? This chapter aims to answer these questions by analyzing data collected from 191 cases of urban homeowners’ rights protection activities between 1999 and 2012. Drawing on the concepts of organization, strategy, and opportunity structures, this chapter examines the effect of dispute type, number of participants, rightsdefending method, homeowner organization, and government response on the results of homeowners’ collective action. In so doing, the chapter seeks to not only reveal the institutional barriers faced by homeowners in their self-governance of community public affairs, but also to demonstrate the role played by homeowners’ organizations in their collective action. More broadly, the chapter discusses what these findings tell us about state–society relations in contemporary China.
Chinese citizens are far from docile; they regularly and vociferously rise up in collective protest and engage in resistance. In some cases, they successfully pressure political and economic elites to satisfy their demands, while in others they are brutally suppressed. In most instances, the results are mixed. A glance at the headlines in just the first nine months of 2018 illustrates the wide array of contentious acts that Chinese citizens have felt compelled—and sufficiently empowered—to undertake. In July and August 2018 in the southern city of Shenzhen, the non-profit China Labour Bulletin recorded 279 worker protests, twelve of which involved police intervention. Among these, workers at Jasic Technology launched a push to establish a union branch and were joined by a coalition of students, grassroots Maoist organizations, and retired Communist Party officials. Meanwhile, truck drivers in at least twelve cities across China participated in a massive strike in which they blocked roads for dozens of miles, demanding lower gas prices, higher pay, and an end to excessive tolls and arbitrary fees and fines. In March 2018, as the #MeToo movement spread in China, the online publication Feminist Voices was “permanently suspended” from popular social media platforms. In September, hundreds of Christian believers flocked to their church in the city of Zhengzhou (in central Henan province) to stop local authorities from confiscating and destroying church items and structures that had been designated as facilities for “illegal” religious gatherings. The same month, more than 600 citizens in the city of Leiyang (in central Hunan province) gathered outside the local police headquarters to protest the city’s plans to deal with public school over-crowding by forcing students into low-quality private schools with relatively high fees. And through 2017 and 2018, hundreds of thousands of China’s ethnic minority Uyghurs have been surveilled and forced into extrajudicial detention camps as part of the government’s “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Extremism.” These are just a few of the tens of thousands of yearly protests that have emerged in China in recent years. In 2005, the last year that the Chinese government published official statistics on “mass incidents,” there were 87,000 such occurrences, as compared with roughly 5,000–10,000 per year in the early 1990s and fewer than 1,000 a year in the 1980s. Since 2005, reliable statistics have been more elusive, but most sources agree that the number of yearly popular protests has remained in the high tens of thousands. In 2010, according to some mainland Chinese scholars, there were as many as 180,000.
In early 2004 half a dozen farmers, members of an informal “land protection team” (护地队), occupied a “sentry post” around the clock on a disputed parcel of land in Linhai, a county outside of Taizhou, Zhejiang province. As an old cadre who was part of the team put it, “before we used to use our hoes to plant the soil, now we rely on them to defend our land.” The villagers had been locked in a series of confrontations with local authorities over a plan to take 386.4 mu of land for a local handcrafted art company. The villagers had attacked a street office cadre who came to persuade them to accept a land taking, mobilized 150 farmers to demonstrate in front of the street office building—shutting it down for six hours—and mobilized hundreds of farmers to fight off a forcible land taking ordered by the local court, a clash that resulted in dozens of injuries. While reporting of such conflicts was largely censored in the official “open” media, by the mid-2000s coverage of protests like this was a recurrent feature of the “internal reference” media—a category of publications whose circulation was largely restricted to government officials. A wave of land-related protests was surging throughout the province, a marked shift from only a decade earlier, when such conflicts were relatively rare. The emergence of protests such as those in Linhai pose a number of questions: Why were farmers able to mobilize on such a large scale in the mid-2000s? What kinds of grievances did farmers report? Why was mobilization relatively high in some cities like Taizhou, while other cities were relatively stable?
Björn Alpermann and Maria Bondes
Alongside its economic development, China has experienced a plethora of worsening environmental problems. Across China, water, soil and air have been contaminated by industrial and residential pollution, often leading to serious health hazards. In 2006 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) made “visible improvements in ecological environment” an explicit policy goal. In spite of this, ecological challenges increased as environmental concerns were placed on the backburner in favor of economic growth, and environmentrelated contention continued to rise. According to estimates from the Chinese Society for Environmental Sciences, the number of environmental mass incidents has increased by an average of 29 percent annually since 1996 and even rose by 120 percent in 2011. Environmental protection has been one of the policy fields in which China’s authoritarian Party-state has been most tolerant of social activism. While the boundaries of this relative tolerance remain unstable, environmental activists have been granted considerable leeway and have made use of a variety of methods, including public hearings, environmental impact assessments and administrative lawsuits. These trends have led outside observers to expect that “Chinese environmental NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] may function as both sites and agents of political change,” increasing openness, transparency and liberalization. Given that many environmental issues affect members of different social groups almost evenly, environmental grievances have been seen by some as possessing particular potential to coalesce into a broader social movement. Others have argued that despite some encouraging trends, environmental activism has continued to be fragmented and prone to sporadic crackdowns.
Natalie W.M. Wong
Environmental degradation resulting from urbanization and industrialization is one of the dominant challenges facing China. The intense environmental effects of air, water, and land pollution have led to social unrest that has threatened local political stability. Although the Chinese government has initiated several environmental protection policies and sought to develop an “environmental state,” growing activism in response to the poor environment suggests that its efforts in environmental management have failed. Between 2000 and 2013, 871 cases of protests (群体性事件) were reported: 68 percent of them had more than 100 participants and 31 percent of cases had more than 1,000 participants, alarming the Chinese government. These included 37 cases of environmental protests (环境群体性事件) against polluting facilities in major urban cities across the country. The protestors complained that the polluting facilities were damaging public health and the ecosystem. The lack of public participation in the decision-making processes on environmental issues has been a contributing factor. Environmental unrest highlights the constraints that make it difficult for environmental groups to contribute to environmental management in China. In this chapter, these issues are examined in a case study of protests against an incinerator facility in Guangzhou, a city in southern China. Similar to other urbanized cities in China, Guangzhou has been facing increasing volumes of municipal waste, and city officials have been seeking effective urban management solutions. To reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, the Guangzhou government introduced a plan to build waste incinerators in areas such as the Panyu district. However, the citizens of Panyu launched a series of protests against the government’s plan to build the incinerator. In the face of this social pressure, the Guangzhou government suspended the incineration project. This outcome changed the relationship between the government and activists, with the government establishing a public supervision committee to encourage citizens to participate in decision-making on municipal waste management, and allowing activists to form a green group to promote waste sorting in Guangzhou. This case provides further evidence of the possibilities for collaborative environmental governance in non-democratic China.