Chinese government officials from the city of Shifang in southwestern China have halted production of a factory after protests over environmental concerns brought out thousands and turned violent.
According to WSJ, the local government announced on its official Sina Weibo account (China’s version of Twitter) that the planned copper alloy plant would be permanently cancelled, after earlier saying “construction would be suspended temporarily while it secured the people’s ‘understanding and support.’”
This is a major turn of events in a country that systematically uses brute force and internet censorship to squash any potential for protest that would derail the government’s plans. China has been known to ban any mention of the word “protest” on Sina Weibo and scrub it for potentially incendiary terms. During the Arab Spring they blocked the word “Egypt,” lest the people get any ideas, and just last month government censors blocked any mention of the Tiananmen Square anniversary.
So it’s impressive to say the least that the people of Shifang were able to organize and successfully block the plant from being built. Authorities shot “tear gas and stun grenades at protesters” before it was over, and 13 protesters were injured.
But even more impressive than the ability to organize is what the protests indicate about people’s awareness of environmental hazards. WSJ writes “Many of the protesters appeared to be young, which some online users said proves that environmental and political activism is not unknown to young Chinese.”
The government may limit information about the long-term health and environmental impact of China’s booming industrial conditions, but people are clearly attuned to its realities. You probably only need so much direct experience with that kind of industrial pollution to know that a copper alloy plant in your back yard isn’t the best idea.