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And The Winner Is…Panyu Garbage Protesters

GB Geo-Blog

And The Winner Is…Panyu Garbage Protesters

At least the Southern Metropolis Weekly got it right.   The real ground shakers of 2009  are not the Benankes of the world or even the ordinary Chinese worker.   They are a motley group of urban dwellers in the Panyu district of Guangzhou in South China.   They, unlike the dying migrant construction workers from Hunan who contracted pulmonary tuberculosis and who are still waiting for the Shenzhen government to respond, managed to stop the local government from dumping and burning garbage in their backyards to generate electricity.  What’s more, they pulled off the rights activism without being labelled “a small group of people conspiring against the government.”

According to the Southern Metropolis Weekly, these urban residents — office workers, IT personnel, journalists, shopkeepers, insurance consultants, Amway sellers–did not form an formal organization, but spontaneously mobilized the community by using what urbanites use best–the internet and the cell phone.  QQ (msn equivalent) and text messages were their communication weapons.   They had the help of the local media, who exposed the economic interest of local government officials in encouraging garbage burning as a means to generate electricity in a series of articles in the Southern Metropolis Weekly.  And finally, they had the know-how.  When the Guangzhou municipal government asked them to choose five representatives to speak for the crowd, they shouted, “we refuse to be represented.” And the government responded to their protests, lest they be ridiculed.   No shots fired, no protesters co-opted by the state.  All this took place in a so-called authoritarian state.

Several points in response.  First, the people matter.  A growing rights awareness is taking hold among urbanites connected virtually.  Second, the scope of protest matters.  As far as I’m aware, the garbage incineration is localized.  Third, party-state is also constantly adapting to the environment.  It’s always hard to know exactly what happens behind those closed doors of decision-making, but suffice to say that according to the article, the turning point came in early December after the local newspapers had exposed the local officials to public scrutiny.  The only option left was how to save face.  And the Guangzhou officials executed face-saving perfectly.

The opinions expressed in this blog are strictly personal, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.


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