February 08, 2006

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It's just a phase

China's Orwellian named Ministry of Public Security last month announced an almost 7% rise in recorded "disturbances to public order", to 87,000 last year. That's more than 200 riots a day. Even in a country as vast and populous as China, that's a lot of disturbances. But the SCMP reports the Ministry isn't worried...it's all just a phase:

Mainland police have played down the growing wave of social unrest sweeping the country, describing it as a phase common to fast-growing economies worldwide. Ministry of Public Security spokesman Wu Heping said in Beijing yesterday that the rural riot was "a concept that does not exist".

"In the phase [of fast economic development], the interests, relations and positions of different parts [of society] are undergoing adjustment. In the process of adjusting, there will accordingly be an increase in [the number of] common people who, in order to defend their own interests, express their pleas to government and relevant departments through various channels," Mr Wu said.

"And I believe every country has had this process and this phase."

They're not riots, although the spokeman declined to give us the "correct" word for pitchfork wielding peasants. Here's a question for the history buffs - did America's Wild West see anything like this number of disputes?

That aside, the number of "disturbances" has risen from 10,000 a decade ago to 87,000 last year. That's one hell of a phase to be going through.

posted by Simon on 02.08.06 at 08:26 AM in the China law category.


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I've been considering this for a while (as has Roland, we exchanged a few e-mails on it a while back). I'm not really sure what we can conclude from the numbers.
For starters, they aren't necessarily refering to riots. "Mass incidents" can include anything from street protests, petitions, sit-ins or picketing. I'm also very suspicious on the accuracy of the numbers (these are Chinese statistics after all). "Mass incident" reports would be prepared by local officials (who would want to under-report) at the request of the central govt (which also has an agenda, you can speculate away as to what that may be - but Hu/Wen have been pushing a more rural/redistributive agenda so they may actually want to see more riots to support that; or perhaps public security just wants more funding).
If the data do reflect a trend, rather than just a political effort, I was also musing whether more 'mass incidents actually equals more discontent. It could. But in theory, it may also mean that people feel more free to protest. It's possible that better reporting of incidents (via the internet, etc...) has pushed the state to alter its statistics accordingly.
All of that said, even if the 87,000 is accurate, do any of us really trust that the number of incidents was 10,000 a decade ago?

posted by: myrick on 02.08.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

This is an interesting issue. I tend to disagree with Roland's view that incidents such as the one between the two villages in Guangdong have no bearing whatsoever on whether China is becoming a more or less stable country. But aside from that, on the statistics, one has to bear in mind when judging their credibility that for a long time (i.e. all the JZM period) they were not reported openly but were instead for internal reference only. They have only been released publicly since HJT came to power. As you point out myrick that suits his agenda, but it also suggests at minimum a growing concern by party leaders that stability is declining. Speeches by party leaders indicate that also. Now their perception may be wrong - but given the nature of the Chinese political system, that hardly matters.

posted by: dylan on 02.08.06 at 09:59 AM [permalink]

One peasant riot is a tragedy. 87,000 is a statistic.

posted by: Gaijin Biker on 02.09.06 at 10:49 AM [permalink]

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