What is interesting about this story from the Washington Post isn’t the sheer number of Chinese engaged in (often violent) protests against the state, but that the government is openly discussing the issue:
Reflecting the leaders’ concern, the People’s Daily, the main party newspaper, declared in a front-page editorial July 28 that any attempt to use protests to correct social injustices that arise as China moves toward a market economy would be “punished in accordance with the law.” The editorial was also broadcast on state television and relayed by the official New China News Agency, underlying the importance officials attached to the warning.
“Resolving any such problems must be done in line with law and maintenance of stability,” the editorial said. “The solution of any problems must rely on the party, the government, the law, the policies and the system.”
Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang said last month that the number of what he called “mass incidents” was rising fast across China, according to an official who heard Zhou speak at a closed meeting. Zhou said that 3.76 million Chinese took part in 74,000 such protests last year, which he characterized as a dramatic increase.
Perhaps more worrisome, Zhou continued, is a “noticeable” trend toward organized unrest, rather than the spontaneous outbursts that traditionally have led to violent clashes between citizens and police. The minister added, however, that most protests erupt over specific economic issues rather than political demands, suggesting they are not coordinated or directed at bringing down the one-party system that has been in place in China since 1949.
Rural protesters have recently cited farmland seizures by local governments working with developers, or pollution of fields and irrigation sources by locally licensed factories or mines as the reasons for their uprisings. Other protests have erupted over clashes between factory managers and the millions of youths who leave their villages to work in assembly plants in big city suburbs.