Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Take a good look at that cell phone and that clock radio that are made in China. The cheap labour that keeps them cheap isn't so cheap after all. Malcolm Moore of the London Telegraph reports of serious riots in a small Chinese city known as Shishou in China's Hubei province.
The death of a cook in a local hotel is reported to have sparked the riots. Police reported the death of Yu Yuangao as a suicide. The fact that he is illiterate made the suicide note provided by police as proof of their story highly dubious. Family and friends of the deceased report that Mr. Yu had been planning to blow the whistle on drug trafficking in the hotel, and that corrupt cops collaborated with gangsters in having him rubbed out.
The unrest was serious. Pictures of cops in riot formation as well as of an overturned police car reached the west. Estimates of the size of the angry mob surrounding the hotel ranged from a few thousand to around 70,000. The protest spilled into cyberspace as hackers defaced the web site of the city government. The speed with which the riot spread and its vehemence shocked seasoned observers.
What was remarkable about the London Telegraph's report is that it was not presented as an odd occurrence but as a possible trend. The Telegraph reports as follows about other instances of civil unrest within China.
"After months of calm, there have recently been a spate of riots being reported in the Chinese media, or on the internet. Is this because media restrictions have been lifted, allowing news of riots to spread, or has there been a genuine increase in social tension in the countryside?
It is impossible to tell. China no longer publishes the figures for how many riots take place each year, but most people put the figure at around 80,000 and the vast majority go totally unnoticed.
The fact that there have been a dozen riots reported in the last couple of months may not demonstrate anything out of the ordinary. There is no theme that connects the recent protests - some are about property, some are work disputes, some are because of corruption. "
Eighty thousand riots is a lot of unrest. Is there a common thread connecting some of these occurences? The general feeling that corruption, labour disputes and property disagreements are not being adjudicated fairly undoubtedly pushes people over the edge.
Statistics are hard to come by, but it is known that the economic downturn in the west has been strongly felt in China. When people cut down on optional purchases such as fancy shoes and electronics, the impact registers in China, where many of these goods are manufactured.
With all of the political rhetoric about China being a state of the workers and peasants, the daily reality suggests something far different. The western companies that set up shop in China do so because they can rely on a work force that is kept docile by a ruthless police state.
The Chinese government can only go so far in papering over their social problems. Peasants have migrated to China's cities by the millions in search of factory work that pays more than can be earned on collective farms. Many of these workers are now unemployed in strange surroundings.
China seems to be having more and more trouble delivering a docile work force to overseas bosses. Forced abortions, the occupation of Tibet and persecution of religious minorities have all been perpetrated with seeming impunity. But the patience of China's workers and peasants seems to finally be wearing thin. It seems that China's coat of shining teflon is starting to flake. The" Mandate of Heaven" that seems to have protected the People's Republic of China may be drawing to a close. Stay tuned. Sphere: Related Content