Is the Huankantou incident the beginning of the end of communist rule in China?

Essay by Keir April 2005

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There are dozens of protests every day in the Pearl River Delta factories and almost none of them is reported in the press anywhere. Sometimes they are large and violent. Sometimes they are so small that they could hardly be called protests. Sometimes they are manipulated by outsiders for financial shakedowns. Sometimes they are successful in achieving the goals of the people involved. But almost all of them have one thing in common: they are spontaneous single-issue protests that die down as soon as either the issue is resolved or the protestors realise it won't be resolved in their favour.

There is almost never any solidarity between workers across factories (although it has happened). Protests are almost always about a single localised issue; i.e., almost never about the role of the government. For instance, workers might protest about late payment of wages, low payment of wages, excessive overtime (or too little overtime), poor food in the canteen, etc.

These are not protests about the government or the Chinese state apparatus. These are protests to sort out a single problem.

Protests are not exploding across China. Most bloggers/journalists I've read commenting about protests have no benchmark by which to make that statement. There is no accurate benchmark. I've never had a satisfactory answer to the following question: Are we witnessing more protests or are they just being reported more frequently? My guess is that they are becoming more frequent, but as someone who actually follows this from on the ground and not through the Western press I still find it difficult to accurately judge whether they're increasing.

The protests occurring now are not anti-government. They are expressions of dissatisfaction about all sorts of localised and specific situations. They might be expressions of dissatisfaction about local government decisions, but to call them...