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 illustration:

(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 published.

(Reuters)  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.

(Los 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 (sourced to China Ministry of Public Security; Murray Scot Tanner, "China Rethinks Unrest," The Washington Quarterly 27, No. 3 (2004):137-156; US State Department):

(  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 release.

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 8, 2006.

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.

HRIC points out that 'public order disturbance' (扰乱公共秩序犯罪) includes (but is not limited to) 'provocation/troublemaking, gambling, obstruction of 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 translation]

In speaking about mass incidents (群体性事件) arising from conflict among the people, Zhou Yongkang said that mass incidents are an outstanding problem affecting social stability, with five features that require attention.

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 increase;

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 stability;

2. Armed clash between groups of people causing injuries and deaths;

3. Terrorist activities, violent incidents, illegal organization and assembly by hostile forces and separatists;

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 operations;

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

Mass Incidents

Extraordinarily important mass incidents include:

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 stability;

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 stability;

7. An incident in which more than 500 people clashed with weapons and resulting in serious injuries;

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 chain reactions;

10.  An incident not covered by the above but must be treated as an extraordinarily important mass incident.

Important mass incidents include:

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 (via Xinhua):

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 fines.

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 weapons ...

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) ...

Article 303.  (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 been three 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 released.

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 incidents."

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 to suit 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.

(Chinese 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, China 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 blog.

Official statements 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 article on the China Court website.
  • Statements by Vice-Minister Liu Jinguo at a November 2006 press 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.

(Global 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 it.

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 riverside.

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 people.

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 two decades.

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 mass incidents.

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

(Asia TimesChina 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 blame.

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 (PRC).

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 brutal crackdowns.

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 state media.

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 1,600 injured.

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 years.

For now, villagers are living on food and water delivered to them from uncontaminated areas.

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.

(Global 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 purpose.

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 central government.

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.