Statistics of Mass Incidents
Since I am a statistician by profession, I get
very sensitive and sensitized about numbers and their exact meanings. The
number that has been bothering me for some time is the number of "mass
incidents" in China. This particular number is one of the most
frequently cited numbers for China (well, not as often as the total population
of 1.3 billion people,
about the same as the 123 million Internet users and more than the US-China
trade deficit/surplus). The reason for the frequent citations is that it is favored
for certain types of discussions, such as the "Coming Collapse of China"
theory. For example, it is
frequently cited that there were 87,000 "mass incidents", which then
gets spun into (365 days) x (24 hours per day) x (60 minutes
per hour) / (87,000 incidents) = 6 minutes per incident -- every six minutes, another
mass resistance against human rights violation occurs in China! How
shocking! And how could a nation stay together at this rate!
But I am not
comfortable with some of these characterizations. Here is an
(Henan Business News via 6Park).
In Xinzheng City, Henan
Province, several tens of thousands of emotionally worked-up people showed up spontaneously
together by word of mouth and surrounded the police.
The reason why these people were on the streets was due to an incident on the
night of June 25, 2005. An elderly couple named Li ran a family small enterprise
in which they sold agricultural equipment accessories. On this night,
they were robbed and died after being stabbed more than 110 times. The
robber stole a few cartons of cigarettes and some bicycle tire tubes
from the shop. The entire city was outraged. On September 15,
news came that the police had apprehended the suspect in Suzhou and was bringing him
back to stand trial. Twenty thousand citizens poured into the
streets. They were banging on gongs and drums and thanking the police
for solving the case. The relatives of the victims were crying their
eyes out too in appreciation.
This improvised public assembly was unauthorized, it was massive and
unprecedented in the city and it had a huge social
impact. Thus, it qualifies as a 'mass incident.'
So was this a 'mass incident' in support of the "Coming Collapse of China" theory?
I have my doubts.
Recently, a new number on the subject was
China says protests, riots down a fifth this year. November 7, 2006.
The number of protests and riots by discontented Chinese citizens fell by more than a fifth in the first nine months of 2006, a senior official was quoted as saying in reports seen on Tuesday.
Chinese police dealt with 17,900 "mass incidents" from January to September this year, the vice minister of China's Ministry of Public Security, Liu Jinguo, told a police meeting on Monday, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
This was a drop of 22.1 percent on the number of protests, riots, mass petitions and other "mass incidents" in the corresponding months of last year, Liu said.
Angeles Times) China says it's calmed down. By Mark
Magnier. November 8, 2006.
The number of "mass incidents" in China, a reference to protests, riots and other forms of social unrest, fell by one-fifth in the first nine months of 2006, according to Chinese government statistics released Tuesday.
The official New China News Agency, quoting Liu Jinguo, a vice minister of the nation's Public Security Ministry, reported that police dealt with 17,900 disturbances from January through September, a drop of 22.1%.
At the same time, Liu warned that unapproved religious groups gained in number and clout.
Government statistics in China have long been viewed with skepticism by those who say they tend to be inaccurate and engineered for political purposes. With President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao having made social stability a cornerstone of their administration, some analysts wonder whether the statistics are geared toward showing progress on that front.
"The government has never defined what 'mass incidents' refer to, so it's hard to tell if we're comparing apples and oranges," said Robin Munro, research director of the China Labor Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based activist group that monitors labor conditions and worker complaints in China.
"I'm instinctively suspicious of official Chinese statistics, which tend not to be reliable, especially when they're dealing with social instability," he said.
17,900 is the number of "mass
incidents" for the first nine months of 2006. If the same rate is
maintained, then the total number of "mass incidents" for the entire
year 2006 will be 17,900 x 12 / 9 = 23,900.
If 17,900 represented a 22.1% drop, then the
number of "mass incidents" for the first nine months of 2005 is 17,900
x 100 / 77.9 = 23,000. If the same rate was maintained, then the total
number of "mass incidents" for the entire year 2005 was 23,000 x
12 / 9 = 30,700.
This recent number is at odds with the previous
"numbers" for "mass incidents" (via ChinaBalanceSheet.org)
(sourced to China Ministry of Public Security; Murray Scot Tanner, "China Rethinks Unrest," The Washington Quarterly 27, No. 3
(2004):137-156; US State
Data show social unrest on the rise in China. By Richard McGregor.
January 19, 2006.
Anti-social and mob violence in China rose sharply last year, according to official statistics released on Thursday by the Public Security Bureau, confirming anecdotal evidence of a growing willingness of citizens to take their grievances to the street.
'Public order disturbances' increased by 6.6 per cent to 87,000 in 2005 as a whole, but mob violence rose more quickly, by 13 per cent, the bureau said in an announcement posted on its website.
The bureau counts four different kinds of incidents under the overarching classification of
'public order disturbances' but did not define them in any detail in Thursday's
The figures on 'disturbances' are consistent with a previous statement by Zhou Yongkang, the public security minister, who has said the number of
'mass incidents', or protests, rose by nearly 30 per cent in 2004 from 2003 to 74,000.
The first observation is that the
87,000 refers to 'public order disturbances' but it was labeled in the chart as
'mass incidents.' A 'public order disturbance' may or may not be the same
thing as a 'mass incident.' If 'public order disturbances' increased by
6.6 percent to 87,000 in 2005, then the number of 'public order disturbances' in
2004 was 87,000 / 1.066 = 81,600. This may be 'consistent' ('in the same
ballpark') with Zhou Yongkang's 74,000, but it is not the same number. So
the above chart looks like it has 'apples and oranges' ('mass incidents' and
'public order disturbances').
Beijing reports decline in protests. By Richard McGregor. November
Liu Jinguo, a vice-minister at the Public Security Bureau, said police had dealt with 17,900 "mass incidents" in the first three quarters, down 22.1 per cent on the same period of last year.
"Mass incidents" are defined more narrowly than "public order disturbances", of which there were 87,000 last year, up 6 per cent on 2004, according to government figures.
points out that 'public order disturbance' (扰乱公共秩序犯罪)
includes (but is not limited to) 'provocation/troublemaking, gambling,
official business and mob fighting' (包括寻衅滋事、赌博、阻碍公务和聚众斗殴).
This is different from the recent Reuters report (11/07/2006) about 'mass
incidents' being "protests, riots, mass petitions and other 'mass incidents'."
So what we have is a lot of
confusion about the terms 'mass incidents' and 'public order disturbances.' At this
point, let me track back to examine some primary documents about the definitions
of 'mass incidents.'
The first appearance of the term
'mass incident' (群体性事件)
was apparently given by Minister of Public Security Zhou Yongkang. This was originally published in Ta
Kung Pao on June 5, 2005.
In speaking about mass incidents
arising from conflict among the people, Zhou Yongkang said that mass incidents
are an outstanding problem affecting social stability, with five features that
1. The number has obviously
increased and the scope has expanded. From the 10,000+ mass incidents in
1994 to the 74,000+ mass incidents in 2004, the increase has been more than
sixfold. The number of participants has increased from the 730,000
persons in 1994 to the 3,760,000 persons in 2004, for more than a fourfold
2. The scope has expanded.
Mass incidents occur in cities, rural villages, enterprises, governments,
schools and various domains and sectors and they occur in all the provinces,
autonomous regions and municipalities;
3. The main participants in mass
incidents are more diversified, and include dismissed workers, farmers, urban
dwellers, enterprise owners, teachers and people from various social strata;
4. The methods are extreme,
including laying siege and attacking party and government offices, blockading
public roads, stopping trains and other situations;
5. The tendency is towards
greater organizing. There are sometimes even spontaneously rising
organizations with certain leaders.
This does not help much for the
purpose here, because
Zhou Yongkang really did not explain what a 'mass incident' is. We
confirmed that Zhou Yongkang used the term "mass incidents" (群体性事件).
But we still don't how Zhou's 'mass incidents' are different from the most
recently mentioned 'mass incidents.'
Two days later at the next State Council press
conference on July 7, 2005 (XinhuaNet),
the term was brought up and highlighted. Here is the translated
transcript from the Congressional
Executive Commission on China:
At a July 7, 2005, State Council Information Office press conference, a Reuters journalist asked Li Jingtian, then the Deputy Director of the Party's Organization Department:
In recent months, China's countryside has witnessed a number of riots. What method does the Chinese Communist Party use to deal with riots?
Deputy Director Li responded:
We term the incidents in China's rural areas "mass
incidents (群体性事件)" and not riots.
Li Jingtian specifically
rectified the term "riot" used by foreign correspondents and used
the term "mass incident" instead. The Xinhua article then
proceeds to cite that between 1993 to 2003, the number 'mass incidents' had
increased from ~10,000 to ~60,000. These are the numbers that appeared in the
chart of "mass incidents" from 1993 to 2003.
From the Congressional
Executive Commission on China,
According to a March 2, 2006 Beijing News article and a transcript of the press conference appearing on the Chinese government's Web site, at a March 1 State Council Information Office press conference, an Agence-France Presse reporter asked Ouyang Song, Deputy Director of the Party's Organization Department and Deputy Director of the Leading Group for the Party's "advanced education" campaign:
What we have heard regarding villages is not like [what you have described] . . . Every month, we hear at least twice about rural farmers engaging in mass petitions, demonstrations, or riots because of land requisitions or the abuse of power. These are the cases we have heard of, there are many others we haven't heard of. Official statistics also show that more and more incidents of social discontent are taking place, more than 87,000 last year.
Ouyang responded that:
First, I want to correct two of your statements: I have heard of nowhere in China that has experienced riots, and mass incidents are not increasing.
China is the most stable country in the world. This point has already been recognized by the world. As to the fact that a few particular areas have experienced some mass incidents, in a country as big as China, in an era experiencing rapid development, this should not be considered unusual . . . as to those few areas with mass incidents, the Party and the government are highly attentive and concerned.
Ouyang also said that mass incidents constitute only a small portion of the 87,000 public order disturbances in 2005 reported in public security statistics in January 2006.
So now we get the idea that mass
incidents are a subset of public order disturbances, but still we do not get an actual
number of mass incidents. How small is that portion? We do not know.
If you come down to it, we need to
know how mass incidents are defined. I have not been able to find a full
definition but I have found some bits and pieces. Here is how the Ningxia
Autonomous Region Government defines an 'incident' as being one of the following
six types for the purpose of reporting upwards to the State Council:
1. Charging and laying siege to
a county- or higher-level party or government department, political-legal department,
military, armed police, news and other critical departments, thereby causing
bad influence; attacking, vandalizing, looting and committing arson against a
town- or higher-level party or government office with serious impact on social
2. Armed clash between groups of
people causing injuries and deaths;
3. Terrorist activities, violent
incidents, illegal organization and assembly by hostile forces and
4. Causing the disruption of
railroad and state highway traffic, or the blockading of major cities,
traffic hubs and urban transportation;
5. A group petition at the
county, city or autonomous region level with:
- a likelihood of proceeding to Beijing;
- more than 100 persons involved;
- violent tendency or the possibility of becoming violent;
- seriously affecting social stability, sensitive locations or business
6. More than 60 people involved
in assembly, troublemaking, work strike, business strike, school class strike,
etc with relatively high impact.
Just when you think you've got it,
here is another set of definitions for the Jiangsu provincial government (via www.gov.cn):
Extraordinarily important mass
1. An incident involving more
than 5,000 participants with serious impact on social stability;
2. An incident involving
either laying siege and charging county-or higher-level party, government or
military departments or other critical departments, or the attacking,
vandalizing, looting and/or committing of arson against town- or higher-level party, government
or military departments;
3. An incident in which the
participants were particularly antagonistic and engaged in large-scale
attacking, vandalizing, looting, arson and other criminal activities;
4. An incident interrupting
major railroad arteries, state highways, expressways, major traffic hubs or
urban transportation for more than 8 hours, or interrupting and/or
preventing work at major state construction projects for more than 24 hours;
5. An incident causing more
than ten deaths and/or more than 30 injuries with serious impact on social
6. An incident at a university
by which students engage in large-scale marches, assembly, hunger strike,
sit-in and petition outside of the school without permission, thereby
leading to chain reactions in other regions with serious impact on social
7. An incident in which more
than 500 people clashed with weapons and resulting in
8. An incident in which more
than 10 people engage in a prison riot;
9. An incident in which the
impact on social stability extends beyond the province through interactive
10. An incident not
covered by the above but must be treated as an extraordinarily important
Important mass incidents
1. An incident involving more
than 1,000 persons but fewer than 5,000 persons in illegal assembly,
petitioning, troublemaking, strike (business/school) and so on; or an
incident involving fewer people in illegal assembly and petitioning with
wide impact including the possibility of going to Beijing;
2. An incident with more than
3 but not more than 10 deaths, or more than 10 but not more than 30 injuries;
3. An incident in which
information first appeared on university networks to establish ties, incite
and mislead in order to form a joint action across universities that
seriously disrupt or even paralyze normal educational activities, or the
leaking of test questions in the university entrance tests;
4. An incident in which
more than 200 but fewer than 500 people clashed with each other using
weapons and causing serious injuries;
5. An incident involving
national and international religious ethnic religious issues that seriously
affect national unity;
6. An incident that was caused
by property rights violation, pollution or destruction of land, mines, water supply,
forests, water surfaces and marine space;
7. An incident in which the
impact on social stability extends beyond the province through chain
reaction, or an incident that has already caused serious damages and losses
with the prospect of expanding and escalating;
8. An incident not covered by
the above but must be treated as an important mass incident.
Notice that they make a
distinction between 'extraordinarily important mass incidents' and 'important
mass incidents' in Jiangsu. At this moment, I will say that I still don't
know what exactly a 'mass incident' is or its difference from 'public order
disturbance.' And I won't know until there comes an explicit statement as
to what the definition for each statistic is.
Next we examine the primary
documents with respect to "public order disturbances." Here are
some partial excerpts from the People's Republic of China Code of Criminal Law
Chapter 6. Crimes that
damage the administration of social order
Section 1. Crimes that
disrupt social disorder
Article 277. (Obstruction
of public business)
Using violence or threats to
prevent state government workers to carry out their duties in according to
the law. Three or fewer years in jail, detention or supervision or
During a natural disaster or a
suddenly breaking incident, using violence or threats to prevent Red Cross
personnel to carry out their duties. Same penalty as above.
Deliberately obstructing the
national security and public security bureau to carry out their national
security duties to cause major consequences even though no violence or
threats were used. Same penalty as above.
Article 278. (Incitement
to use violence to resist law enforcement)
Inciting the masses to resist
the enforcement of national laws and administrative regulations. Three
years or fewer in prison, detention or supervision, or deprivation of
political rights; if the consequences were major, more than three years but
less than seven years in prison.
... Article 280.
... Forging or modifying
resident ID cards. Three years or fewer in prison, detention or
administration, or deprivation of political rights; if the consequences were
major, more than three years but less than seven years in prison.
Article 281. (Illegal
manufacturing and trading in police equipment) ...
Article 282. (Illegally
obtaining state secrets) ...
Article 283. (Illegal
manufacturing and training in espionage equipment) ...
Article 284. (Illegal use
of surveillance and snooping equipment) ...
Article 285. (Illegal
intrusion into computer systems) ...
Article 286. (Sabotage of
computer information systems) ...
Article 287. Using
computers for financial fraud, theft, corruption, embezzlement of public
funds, stealing state secrets and other crimes. ...
Article 288. (Interfering
with wireless telecommunication systems) ...
Article 289. Forming mobs
to assault, vandalize and loot to cause death and injuries. ...
Article 290. Forming mobs
to disrupt social disorder. Forming mobs to attack state organizations.
Article 291. Forming mobs
to disrupt order in public locations (such as train stations, piers, airports,
commercial malls, parks, movie houses, exposition halls, sports arenas
and others) and transportation. ...
Article 292. Forming mobs
for armed fights. In a mob armed fight, the leaders and other active
participants sentenced to three years or fewer in prison, detention or
supervision. The penalty increases to more than three years but less
than ten years for any of the following: (1) participation on multiple
occasions; (2) the number of persons in the mob is large and causes bad
influence on society; (3) forming a mob at public places or transportation
hubs, causing serious disruption in social order; (4) fight was conducted with
Article 293. Provoking and
seeking trouble. ...
Article 294. (Organizing,
leading and participating in underworld criminal organizations) ...
Article 295. (Teaching the
techniques of committing crimes) ...
Article 296. (Illegal
assembly, demonstration and protest) ...
Article 297. Carrying
weapons, restricted knives or explosives to participate in assembly,
demonstration and protest. ...
Article 298. (Disrupting
assemblies, demonstrations and protests) ...
Article 299. (Insulting
the national flag or insignia) ...
Article 300. (Organizing
and using churches and evil cult sects to stop law enforcement)
Article 301. (Organizing
group sex) ...
Article 302. (Stealing and
defiling corpses) ...
(Gambling) For the profit purposes, organizing group gambling,
establishing gambling dens or otherwise working in gambling ...
Article 304. (Deliberately
delaying the delivery of mail) ...
Here is my guess as to what has happened (remembering that statistics are never ever totally objective but they are
necessarily socio-politico-economic artifacts). I believe that there has
series of numbers.
The first series was labeled
'mass incidents' and ran from 1993 to 2004. In 1993, the number was
8,700; in 2004, the number was 74,000. This series has been
discontinued since. The corresponding 2005 number has never been
The second series was labeled
'public order disturbances' and began in 2004. In 2004, the number was
81,600; in 2005, the number was 87,000. It is not comparable to the
first series, but appears to be a substitute. This count purportedly
covers: provocation/troublemaking, gambling, running underworld criminal
organizations, obstruction of
official business, mob fighting, delaying the delivery
of mail, holding mass orgies, computer hacking, making and selling fake police uniforms,
forging ID cards, burning national flags and corpse desecration
among other things.
The third series was labeled
'mass incidents' and began in 2004. All we know at this point is that the
January-September 2005 number was 23,000 and the January-September 2006 number
was 17,900. This count purportedly covers: protests, riots, mass petitions and other "mass
Why should there be multiple time
series of data with different meanings? In a way, this is understandable --
you produce a time series of data that contain all manners of incidents (e.g.
disco brawls, gambling den raids, protest petitions, sit-ins, riots, etc) but
the western media and overseas hostile forces prefer to position this as
"public riots against human rights violations." At this point,
it becomes understandable if you would rather split your data stream into 'mass
incidents only' and the more generalized 'public order disturbances.'
There is also a huge difference
between the subjects in 'mass incidents' and 'public order disturbances.'
A 'mass incident' refers to the incident which usually involves large numbers of
people (e.g. 10,000 people rioting at a university over their diplomas). A
'public order disturbance' is an individual crime and the number of affected people does
not come into it. For example, if I was caught selling fake police
uniforms, then I am the sole criminal. This is a 'public order
disturbance' (Article 281) because my action caused social mistrust of people in
uniforms. The number of actual people who lost their trust is not known to
any precision. As another example, if a group of five hackers went
and crippled the People's Daily website, they would be guilty of
"disturbing the public order" (Article 285 and Article 286 of the PRC
Code of Criminal Law). This is one incident with five criminals. How
would that be counted in the statistics? One or five? But the number
of people affected is not known with any precision. Neither of these two
examples may be considered "mass incidents."
If you don't like statistics such
as these, you
can refuse to use them, or you can use them and state your qualifications (e.g. lack of
transparency, dubious quality, inconsistency, suspicion of manipulation, etc). But it does not mean that you can re-interpret them
your own political needs.
I do not enjoy being put in this
position. I attribute all my grief and discontent to certain Chinese
bureaucrats thinking that manipulation and obfuscation is the best
approach. It isn't. And I promise that I will remind you of this
fact every time that another update is issued.
Meanwhile, I know that I will
continue to read about "every six minutes, another
mass protest against human rights violation occurs in China" while knowing full
well that we may be talking about disco brawls or gambling den raids.
Here is a list
of posts from my archives about various types of events, which may be classified as "mass
incidents" depending on the definition. For example, when two gangs
clash in a disco and the fight spills into the street, it has nothing to do with
human rights violation even though it is a "mass incident" or
"public order disturbance" of some sort.
12, 2006) Dog
Day Afternoon Coverage of the
Beijing demonstration by dog lovers against the city's restrictions on
28, 2006) The Jiangxi Student Demonstrations
Students at the Clothing Vocational College rioted after
finding out that the value of their diplomas had been misrepresented to
them. Lots of photographs.
- (September 9,
Case of Dai Haijing On September 7 and 8, there were two mass
incidents in the city of Ruian due to protests over the mysterious death of
teacher Dai Haijing. Photos included.
- (August 14,
Yanshi Incident In the city
of Yanshi, villagers attempting to protect their farmlands from requisitioning
without adequate compensation were assaulted by hired gangsters with an
unimaginable degree of brutality.
- (August 7,
Great Xiangyin Massacre More
than 100 petitioners for land compensation money have been massacred by armed
policemen in Xiangyin (Hunan). Or maybe not ...
- (June 19,
Zhengzhou University Riot Photographs and translated forum posts
about a riot by 10,000 university students about their university diplomas.
- (June 16,
Sanzhou Incident The story of
a mass incident in China had to be pieced together by reading Apple Daily on one
day and Oriental Daily on the next day. This is a good story in which
sending in 100 thugs to intimidate villagers was countered by the mass mobilization with
gongs and drums of 10,000 villagers who sent the thugs fleeing for their lives
- (May 10,
At A Mining Disaster Five reporters covering a mining disaster
were attacked by mine security guards, fire fighters and cadres. Read the
action as seen by three of these reporters.
- (April 16,
2006) The Shantou Incident
Media coverage of the Shantou mass incident over the tearing down of two sluice
gates built by the residents of Bomei village.
6, 2006) The
Zhanjiang Incident A mass incident in which more than 500
villagers fought with guns, bombs, pitchforks, hoes and rakes over land
usage. More than 30 people were injured, including two policemen (one of
them was the police station director). The county party secretary had to
be escorted out by the police.
- (January 20,
Incidents In China For
the year 2005, there were 87,000 mass incidents in China. But what is a
mass incident? When is it a public order disturbance? One such
incident occurred yesterday in Shenzhen. Will such mass incidents bring
the government down?
- (January 16,
Zhongshan Incident Coverage of the mass incident at Sanjiao town,
Zhongshan city, including translations from the Chinese-language media.
- (January 12,
GMRQ Investigative Report of the Shanwei (Dongzhou) Incident
Translation of an investigative report done by an overseas human rights website.
This is not the definitive report, as there are lots of holes, but it has some
maps and photographs that will better explain what was previously published.
- (December 9, 2005) The Shanwei
Comparison of media coverage of this mass incident in China. This is a
little bit unusual because most other media found themselves having to depend on
Radio Free Asia. So it is a good exercise to see how people have to write
reports without much information themselves.
- (September 19, 2005) The
Taishi Village Elections - Part 1 (Chronology) A chronology of the
events as the people in a small village in Guangdong province demanded to recall
their village official and elect a new one. This is an ongoing story, with
plenty of up-and-down exciting drama.
- (August 13, 2005) The
Daye Incident Yet another mass incident in China involving more
than 20,000 people attacking the city government building. But this one
has a slightly different flavor.
- (June 29, 2005) The Chizhou Incident
A street riot in the city of Chizhou (Anhui province, China) after a traffic
accident. Photos and translated reports.
- (June 27, 2005) The
Shengyou Reporter's Field Notes What should a Chinese reporter do
when an edict comes down to ban all coverage of a subject in the
newspapers? Answer: Publish your field notes on the Internet for all to
read! These notes explained where the famous 3-minute 'Washington Post'
attack video actually came from.
- (April 16, 2005) Huaxi/Huankantou:
A New Chinese Tourist Mecca
Tens of thousands of Chinese 'tourists' are flocking to the scene of the pitched
battle between police and citizens in the village of Huankantou in Zhejiang.
Photos from the scene are included.
Law and Politics Blog) Are Mass Incidents Increasing or Decreasing
in China? March 31, 2007.
It's not clear. Chinese authorities noted in
2005 that "mass incidents" (including riots, protests, demonstrations, and
mass petitions) in China had surged to 74,000 in 2004, up from 10,000 in
1994. Since then, different Chinese officials have reported broad
declines in mass incidents. But these reports have been vague, inhibiting
the ability to make comparisons with prior statistics. Officials have
released detailed information for other categories of incidents, such as
"public order disturbances." But the differences in categorization
between these and "mass incidents" also inhibit meaningful comparisons.
In mid-2005, Minister of Public Security
Zhou Yongkang noted that mass incidents had risen to 74,000 in 2004, up
from 10,000 ten years earlier, as noted in a July, 6 2005 Phoenix TV
report and a August 1, 2005
post on the website of the Congressional-Executive Commission on
China. These comments parallel the comprehensive discussion of the rise
in mass protests in China since 1993 in Murray Scot Tanner's 2004 article,
Rethinks Unrest, in the Washington Quarterly.
Since 2005, official Chinese statements
regarding mass incidents has been partial and confusing. Some foreign
media have (incorrectly) reported that Chinese officials have stated that
there were 87,000 mass incidents in China in 2005. The original source
for this number is actually a Ministry of Public Security press conference
held in early 2006. The
press release of that conference stated:
The 87,000 number does
not refer to "mass incidents." Rather, it refers to "public order
disturbances." This difference in categorization prevents any effort to
draw meaningful direct comparisons between it and earlier figures for mass
incidents. Further commentary on this is available in a January 30, 2006
post on the website of the Congressional-Executive Commission on
China, and a November 15, 2006 post on the EastSouthWestNorth
since 2005 regarding mass incident totals have been partial and
incomplete. Examples include:
- Statements by Vice-Minister of Public
Security Liu Jinguo at a January 16, 2007
press conference that mass incidents had declined by 16.5 percent
between 2005 and 2006, without providing exact figures.
- Broad statements by Chinese officials
that the numbers of mass incidents and mass petitions declined between
2005 and 2006, without providing exact numbers or percentages, according
to a March 28, 2007
on the China Court website.
- Statements by Vice-Minister Liu Jinguo
at a November 2006
conference that the "police handled 17,900 mass incidents" during
the first nine months of 2006, representing a decline of 22.1 percent
over the same period during 2005. But it is unclear whether "mass
incidents handled by the police" are necessarily the same as "mass
incidents" per se. Consequently, it’s not clear (to me at least), that
these can be compared to earlier numbers.
So what should we make
of this? Well, it looks like there has been a clear increase in the number
of mass incidents through 2004. At that point, Chinese officials began to
report that the numbers of mass incidents were in decline, but also
stopped issuing data on mass incidents, began to issue fragmentary data on
other types of incidents, and (separately) issued directions that the
media should not report on mass incidents. That should at least raise a
reasonable level of doubt as to whether the numbers of mass incidents are
actually in decline, and whether social unrest is actually decreasing.
Times) Making sense of 'mass incidents' By Wang Weilan.
May 30, 2009.
As “mass incidents” inevitably rise in China,
both independent experts and advisors to the Chinese government are arguing
for more enlightened measures to handle them.
“Mass incident” is the official Chinese
euphemism for a protest, riot, demonstration or mass petition. According to
official figures, 8,700 separate incidents occurred in 1993, and that number
rose ten times to 87,000 in 2005 and to over 90,000 in 2006. The riot in
Weng’an of Guizhou Province in July last year is widely recognized as one of
the most violent and influential.
In his book New views on mass incidents –
lessons from the Weng’an incident July 28 published in April, Liu Zifu,
former director of Guizhou Bureau of Xinhua News Agency, explores the many
local and larger reasons behind the riot and his experiences in dealing with
China’s most important thinktank – the
Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), an institution affiliated with the
State Council – also published a report on Chinese legal developments last
month, in which the authors analyzed the causes of last year’s mass incidents.
They strongly advocate caution in dealing with them.
When there is widespread hatred of the rich
and the empowered, Weng’an or similar incidents will occur sooner or later,
according to a commentary by Li Deming on the People’s Daily website.
To explore countermeasures against mass
incidents is an important topic for the ruling party and the government. It
would be meaningful for Party members and government officials, especially at
grass-roots levels, to solve social conflicts and deal with public crises,
wrote Ma Ya in Phoenix Weekly magazine.
Mass incidents on the Chinese mainland can be
broken into two types, according to a CASS sociologist and researcher. Some
are sparked by minor events, said Shan Guangding. An example might be a fight
or a traffic accident between a government official and an ordinary citizen
that then escalates into something involving thousands of people.
This type of incident has no obvious specific
purpose or premeditated organization. Mostly such moments simply offer an
excuse to unleash pent-up anger or resentment, according to Shan. The Wanzhou
incident in Chongqing in 2004 in which 10,000 rioted after an official and his
wife had beaten up a humble porter or a “bang bang”, was of this
type, according to Shan.
Then there was the other kind: not sudden,
not disorganized, and often involving long-term economic interests. Ninety
thousand demonstrated in the city of Hanyuan in Sichuan Province after they
had been ordered to vacate their homes to make way for construction of a new
hydroelectric plant. They demanded better compensation.
The Weng’an incident was a hybrid mixture of
the two, he concluded. For that reason and others, Weng’an is destined to be
remembered as a model of how the Chinese Communist Party deals with a typical
“mass incident”, said Liu.
“It seems accidental, but in fact it was
inevitable,” said Shi Zongyuan, Party Secretary of Guizhou Province. About
30,000 were involved in the protest on July 28 in Weng’an over an official
mishandling of a 16-year-old schoolgirl’s death.
Protestors set fire to 160 offices of the
local Communist committee and government buildings, looted official property
and destroyed 22 police vehicles.
Li Shufen had been found dead in a river
midnight, July 22 last year. The girl’s family believed she was raped and
murdered by two men accompanying her that night before being thrown into the
river. One of the men was said to be the son of a local official.
Unsatisfied with the police report which
concluded Li had committed suicide by drowning herself, relatives blamed the
police for a corrupt, shoddy investigation. Li’s uncle, local teacher Li
Xiuzhong, was beaten when he questioned the police. The riot occurred on July
28, the same day as police asked Li’s family to remove her body from the
Authorities rounded up 234 people accused of
taking part in the riot and arrested 117. Several local officials, including
Weng’an’s Party chief, have since been dismissed for breach of duty.
Party secretary Shi, an important figure in
Liu’s book, said that behind the girl’s death simmered unaddressed, deeper
problems including disputes between mine owners and farmers, between local
government and migrants in Weng’an. These issues, deep and with profound
implications, would escalate into a full-scale riot involving more than 30,000
Weng’an’s GDP had doubled between 2000 and
2007. Fiscal income increased almost three times during that period, according
to Liu. Mining entrepreneurs and local government officials grew rich at the
same time as local people lived on in misery, failing to benefit from any
improved economic largesse, Liu claimed in the book.
Mining in Weng’an also blocked the villagers’
drinking water, forcing them to drink water drawn from ditches tainted with
garbage. In response, the local government in May 2007 spent 700,000 yuan
($102,500) on a new drinking water project, without any results. Mining near
the villagers’ houses caused cracks in their homes, but only 70 of 1,000
affected households were reportedly compensated. The mining company repaired a
dozen. Villagers also had to borrow money at high interest to pay for their
children’s schooling, said Liu, a veteran journalist based in Guizhou for over
Liu cited an official who had been
transferred from Longli County to Weng’an: for every 10 Weng’an officials, the
official said, seven or eight were involved in business or setting up a
business. Economic unfairness and growing social inequality were the root
causes of a growth in protests, both Shi and Liu agreed. “China has entered a
golden age of economic development,” said Liu. “Meanwhile it is also a peak
time for societal contradictions.”
The Gini coefficient measures the widening
gap between the rich and the poor. China’s figure since 2000 has been higher
than 0.4 percent, the international alarm level. When the coefficient hits
alarm levels, social stability is endangered, said Li Yingsheng, a sociology
professor with Renmin University of China.
Hatred towards the rich among everyday
Chinese people reflected a hatred for unfairness in society, according to Mao
Shoulong, professor at Renmin University of China.
Local governments who sequestered land or
property from their own people were the spark behind many a mass incident, the
report found. Local governments often overemphasized ecnomic development at
the expense of their public service responsibility, it concluded.
The academy report mentioned more than 30,000
illegal land grabs involving more than 220,000 hectares last year. Land
disputes have become the prime problem affecting the stability and development
of rural areas.
Conflicts over land requisitions and the
operating rights of contracted land as well as disputes between capital and
labor will become increasingly significant, said Yu Jianrong, a researcher
with the Rural Development Institute at CASS.
“Only when things become big trouble are
problems solved in China,” said Ding Gang, a senior editor at People’s Daily
in Beijing. “That proves something is wrong with the management mode.”
China’s “social management mode” – the
official euphemism for government’s handling of society – should be reformed,
said Ding. Government should research problems to prevent them escalating into
To reduce complaints, government should
switch its focus from economic development towards the welfare of its people,
Liu suggested. Liu advocated democratic supervision to reduce mass incidents.
“The absence of effective democratic
surveillance caused the accumulation of a large number of complaints,” Liu
reportedly said in an interview with Phoenix Weekly. “Power without
supervision surely produces corruption. The ruling party should have their
rights effectively supervised,” he said. “Bureaucrats shield one another, and
Criminal Law should not be applied to senior officials” is part of ancient
Chinese officials’ culture, Liu wrote in the book.
To prevent officials ignoring or damaging
people’s interests, the people should become involved in selection of
officials, Liu also suggested. “Only when people are fully involved in the
selection of officials will those selected officials be responsible to the
people,” he said.
Neither Liu nor CASS saw mass incidents as
overtly political in nature, meaning there was nothing premeditated against
the central government or the leadership of the Communist Party.
Most mass incidents were targeted at
companies, “the haves” or the improprieties of local governments. Unrest was
isolated and uncoordinated, said Shan.
Stereotyped methods of tackling mass
incidents – defining protestors as “anti-government” or “anti-Communist Party”
– are wholly discredited according to these policy advisors. “Many of the
protestors were only making justified demands. The majority of those involved
have no such political purpose as subverting the Communist Party or the
Government at all,” said Liu.
Shan attacked the time-honored practice of
regarding all protestors as malicious or misled, all protests as premeditated
political movements, saying these approaches provided political cover for
local authorities wanting to crack down on dissent.
Conflict escalated when authorities adopted
an overly tough approach or suppressed information. The CASS report cited
Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu as saying that in dealing with mass
incidents, the police force, weapons and enforcement measures should be
exercised with caution, and the flow of information should be improved.
Both Yu Jianrong and Shan predict more mass
incidents in 2009 and beyond. “We should be fully prepared for more mass
incidents in China,” said Shan. “Complaints about social inequalities,
criticism of official corruption and ha
Times) China writes new script
for mass protests Kent Ewing August 4, 2009
The official script has
played out countless times like a poorly written, predictable television
drama: spurred by malicious rumor and gossip, a gullible Chinese populace
rises up against their well-meaning local leaders. The besieged leaders are
the victims of outside agitators - "schemers" is the preferred word - who have
manipulated ignorant villagers into believing that their land has been stolen
or their water poisoned and the municipal or provincial authorities are to
Pity the honorable victims; smash the pernicious schemers.
Just about everyone has grown tired of this hackneyed, unconvincing plot, and
last week even the state-run Xinhua news agency called for a rewrite.
"In recent years, when large-scale [protests] happen, more often than not
local governments have not done their job properly and have dealt
inappropriately with problems," Xinhua stated in an unusually frank
commentary. "Blaming people for not having all the facts is no different from
saying they are unable to distinguish right from wrong, and that is simply
untrue," it added.
Later in the week, the Southern Metropolitan News reported that Beijing plans
to launch a training course to "help grassroots cadre better handle
emergencies and avoid lax and worsening management". Zhu Lijia, a professor
from the party's administrative school, will host the one-week course.
The professor has left "schemers" and "foreign instigators" off the syllabus.
The central government' efforts are an attempt to encourage a more humane,
people-oriented management style in the provinces during challenging economic
times and two months ahead of the 60th birthday of the People's Republic of
China's top leaders do not want this milestone event - to be marked with
fanfare on October 1 - undermined by further reports of mass protests and
In China, protests are officially referred to as "incidents." If more than 100
people are involved, a "mass incident" is declared. There were 80,000 such
demonstrations in 2007, the last time state media published a figure for a
national affliction the central government would like to see reined in.
It's safe to say that every day, somewhere in China, an aggrieved crowd
gathers in anger over a land seizure or industrial accident. It is only the
most sensational of these protests that become "news" - and then often only if
the country's growing army of netizens spreads the word, forcing the hand of
Optimists now feel that central authorities have been moved to whip corrupt
local officials into line.
Then, again, although the Xinhua commentary was extraordinarily blunt, this is
hardly the first time Beijing has sounded the call for a cleaner regime at the
local level. Yet, by all indications, corruption is getting worse, not better.
This latest call for reform was published after a party chief was sacked for
mishandling a large protest in Shishou city in central Hubei province. The
commentary also referred specifically to a riot that occurred on July 24 in
the industrial city of Tonghua in northeastern Jilin province. The violence
was prompted by news that the state-run Tonghua Iron and Steel Group had been
taken over by privately owned Jianlong Steel.
Fearing massive layoffs, thousands of workers stormed the office of Jianlong
general manager Chen Guojun, beating him to death. About 100 people were
injured in the tumult.
Seemingly brushing aside the death and injury in Tonghua, Xinhua asked: "Isn't
the Tonghua case about not caring about the interests of the workers during a
restructuring? People just want to have a stable life."
Xinhua did not choose to mention the far more lethal riots that broke out last
month in Urumqi, capital of the remote autonomous region of Xinjiang. The
clashes pitted Muslim Uyghurs, the majority in the region, against Han Chinese
migrants, who now dominate the capital and have taken most of the plum jobs.
They spanned several days, leaving at least 197 people dead and more than
Because these were the worst riots China has witnessed in decades - following
the script, local (and central) authorities blamed exiled Uyghur activist
Rebiya Kadeer and her World Uyghur Congress for inciting them - they seemed
conspicuous by their absence from the Xinhua editorial.
No matter who was responsible for the Urumqi riots and why, surely they
sounded an alarm that Beijing needs to rethink its policies toward ethnic
minorities; otherwise, more violent clashes can be expected.
Ironically, last Wednesday, the day after the Xinhua commentary was published,
another protest began in Hunan province - the tragic tale is still is
unfolding. Following another script that has become all too familiar, six
villagers were detained in Zhentou township while staging a demonstration to
demand free medical treatment and compensation for their land after a chemical
plant poisoned their bodies and their farms with toxic waste.
The next day, 1,000 supporters surrounded the local police station, shouting
for their release. Another protest is planned for Tuesday unless villagers are
justly compensated. So far, at least two people have died from the poisoning,
and hundreds, if not thousands, more have been affected.
The culprit is the Xianghe Chemical Factory, located in Liuyang city. For the
last five years, the plant has released toxic waste into the water the
villagers drink and the fields they farm. So much cadmium (a toxic metallic
element used to make batteries) has been found in soil samples that experts
say farms in proximity to the factory will be unsafe for planting for up to 60
For now, villagers are living on food and water delivered to them from
Local authorities, after denying for years that there was anything wrong,
finally shut down the plant and, over the weekend, detained its boss. In a
token gesture of accountability, both the chief and deputy chief of Liuyang's
environmental protection agency have been suspended.
This is not the first instance of cadmium poisoning in Hunan. In 2006, it
killed eight people in the city of Zuzhou and made 1,000 others ill. A year
later, 100 employees at a plant in Jiangsu province were stricken with cadmium
poisoning. In 2004, Hong Kong's Gold Peak Industries agreed to pay
compensation to more than 1,000 of its employees for illnesses that they
maintained could be traced to exposure to cadmium at the company's factories
in southern China.
The official foot-dragging and perfunctory response to the latest cadmium case
in Hunan presents a perfect opportunity for central authorities to put
Xinhua's recent tough talk into practice.
Times) Local abuses main reason for mass incidents
By Yu Jianrong. September 1, 2009.
With China's social transformations,
"mass incidents" – large-scale protests or riots – have become increasingly
common. The following is an interview conducted by the Global Times (GT)
reporter Wu Huaiting with Yu Jianrong (Yu), director of the Center for Social
Issues, Institute of Rural Development, the Chinese Academy of Social
Sciences, on the rising frequency of mass incidents in China.
GT: How do we define mass incidents and what
are the characteristics of such incidents in China?
Yu: Technically, "mass incident" is not an
academic concept but a political term. There are four criteria to determine a
"mass incident." First, it should involve a certain number of people,
according to our laws and regulations. For instance, the regulation on public
petition says that people should choose no more than five representatives when
they file petition on the same issue. If they have over five representatives,
it is considered an incident. Second, their actions are not specifically
allowed by law, and some are even prohibited. Third, these people may not have
the same purpose but behave in the same way. Fourth, these incidents have some
impact on civil order.
China's mass incidents mainly involve civil
rights protection, which account for over 80 percent of all the mass
incidents. There are also three other common characteristics.
The first is that most of these incidents are
about economic interest, not political power. About 65 percent of the civil
rights protests in rural areas involve land disputes, and taxation and
autonomy issues are also at the root of many incidents. Most of the disputes
take place in relatively developed coastal areas, especially in the provinces
of Zhejiang, Shandong, Jiangsu and Guangdong. The conflicts mostly involve
illegal or forceful acquisition of land, and the farmers mostly complain over
municipal or county governments. In Anhui, Henan and Heilongjiang provinces,
the farmers mainly charge the township and village governments with violating
their right for contract land. Workers' rights issues mainly concern
State-owned enterprise (SOE) reform, wage arrears, social insurance, working
hours, bankruptcy allocation and so on. In cities, the incidents mainly
involve demolition and relocation. And all these farmers, workers and urban
citizens appeal for specific interests and don't have a clear political
Second, the protesters try to abide by the
rules and are very sensitive to official signals. They follow the central
government's regulations, formal or informal. They may ask to dismiss
unpopular, low-level officials, but they rarely challenge the authority of the
Third, these incidents are passive and
responsive behaviors. Most of China's civil right protection incidents
happened because the legal rights of the disadvantaged were harmed and they
protested in response.
Besides, the protesters often act within the
boundaries of law and restrain themselves with an expectation of a fair and
timely response from the government. However, due to the huge economic
interests involved, sometimes the offenders don't back off easily and may even
hire gangs and thugs to harass the protesters. Local governments and officials
often side with the offenders and mobilize the police to crack down on the
people, which results in violent incidents and severe social consequences.
GT: Why does it seem that many mass incidents
target local government?
Yu: There are deep social and economic
reasons behind these incidents. As the market economy develops, interest
groups start to emerge. Currently, local governments manage lots of political,
economical and judicial resources, resulting in all kinds of conflicts of
interests. Most of the civil rights violations now are from local governments
that sometimes ruthlessly violate others' rights.
GT: So can the disadvantaged groups resort to
legal channels to solve the problems they are facing?
Yu: Local judiciaries are unable to restrict
local interest groups, especially those with political power. Since the local
judicial departments are controlled by local government, they won't be able to
take the cases if the governments ask them not to. Therefore the problems
can't be solved through normal legal channels. When local courts don't handle
people's petitions, the disadvantaged appeal to the central government, which
then passes the case back to local governments. The central government put
pressure on local governments by connecting the number of petitions with
evaluation of local officials. As a result, local officials take every measure
possible to control petitions from appealing to Beijing. They intercept
letters and detain, fine or jail people.
The current petition system is a political
participation and rights compensation system with strong Chinese
characteristics. It worked at one time, but has too many flaws to fit in the
current market economy. The failure of the system damaged the credibility of
the central government and stimulates more and more mass incidents. Gradually,
the people have lost confidence in or even abandon the judicial and petition
system and so resort to mass incidents.
GT: Why are so many county-level officials
involved in many massive incidents?
Yu: Because their administration affects
people's lives most. The policies of the central and provincial governments
have to be channeled through low-level governments like county officials. The
county has lots of administrative powers, such as taxation and urban planning,
which can harm people's lives directly. On one hand, the central government
has found out that the fundamental element of governing is the county-level
government. But without proper checks and balances, two things might happen:
The county governments may either perform poorly or harm people's interests.
Finding how to supervise them and control their power is crucial.
GT: How can we change this structurally?
Yu: The central government already realizes
that the existence of independent local political interest groups compromises
both the interest of the people and the interest of the central government.
Strengthening public supervision on local powers is the key to restrict these
groups and avoid mass incidents. It requires the reform of two aspects of
government. One is the people's representative system. The people's
representatives should only represent the people. They shouldn't work for any
other organization or the government. The people's representatives at county
level should also be elected directly by the people, as the Constitution
stipulates. Moreover, this should be their only job. The other is the creation
of a judiciary independent from the local governments. The problem we face now
is that the primary and intermediate courts report to the local governments,
which is very dangerous. They should report directly to the central
government. Local governments have formed interest groups independent from the
people or the country, but that can and will be changed.