Econintersect: According to Minxin Pei (pictured), social unrest is becoming more common in China and will continue to spread, even as economic and political liberalization reform continues. Pei is a widely published professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. Pei cites as one example the protests in the Guangdong province village of Wukan, reported December 29 in GEI News. He says the situation of local official corruption in Wukan is just an example of the situation for millions of Chinese citizens defrauded by local officials in what has become a cultural norm in that country.
A summary of the Wukan problem, from GEI News:
The basis of the protests involved very serious matters. Local government officials had sold 2/3 of the village farmland used by the residents for subsistence and had not provided any of the proceeds for the welfare of the residents. In addition local administrators had taken action against the protests that resulted in the death of one of the organizers. This eventually led to riots and the trashing of a local government office, with three rioters arrested and two sentenced to 9 an 10 years in prison.
The local residents welcomed Zhu Mingguo as a mediator and his intervention has led to the agreement to release the three men held over the protests and concessions regarding the seized farmland. Mingguo made statements putting much of the blame for the disturbances on the local officials.
Zhu Mingguo is a deputy Communist Party secretary of southern Guangdong province. The reason for this conciliatory handling of the situation is explained by Pei in “Occupy Beijing?” posted in The Diplomat:
Because of the size, duration, and outcome of the protest in Wukan, analysts of Chinese politics are tempted to view this incident as a harbinger of things to come. Perhaps this incident will encourage aggrieved farmers elsewhere to organize and protest in a similar fashion? Perhaps the soft handling of Wukan’s protest suggests the Communist Party will behave differently in responding to social unrest?
One shouldn’t read too much into one incident. The most probable reason for the peaceful settlement of this incident had to do with succession politics in Beijing, as the party secretary in Guangdong, a hot contender for a seat on the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, could have endangered his own chances had the protest ended in a bloodbath. Unusual political circumstances forced local officials to behave with rare prudence and restraint. Nevertheless, the Wukan incident should worry Chinese Communist Party leaders.
Pei points out that the number of mass protests in China is growing at a faster rate than GDP, which has been blazing. Pei writes this:
The number of mass protest rises irrespective of China’s growth performance. In fact, the rate of growth in mass protest exceeds the rate of China’s GDP growth. In 1993, the authorities reported 8,709 such incidents. In 2005, 87,000 such incidents were reported. Perhaps in denial of this grim reality, Beijing has since then simply stopped releasing official data. However, Chinese sociologists estimate that the number of mass incidents reached 180,000 last year. What’s notable about this set of numbers is that, if anything, economic growth fuels social discontent in China. The size of the Chinese economy has more than doubled in the last decade. The number of mass incidents rose roughly four times in the same period.
PEI doesn’t think it likely the Communist Party will be dethroned, but unrest does increase the possibility of an emergent opposition party. And in a crisis, he says “these enemies of the regime could still rise in revolt spontaneously.