In early June police abuse against a poor street vendor sparked a popular uprising…Sound familiar? The scenario is oddly reminiscent of that of the story of Mohammed Bouazizi, the young man whose death kick-started the Tunisian revolution. Only this time, the revolts took place in Southern China.
Riots broke out on June 10 in Xintang, a town in the industry-rich Guangdong province. Street vendors there, often poor migrant workers who set up illegal stands, play cat and mouse with the local chengguan, a sort of municipal security force that assists police. On June 10, during a brutal chengguan crackdown on a group of vendors, tensions reached a breaking point.
The security guards descended on a group of illegal market stands and began beating the vendors with batons to disperse them. In the course of this operation, a young, pregnant, female vendor was reportedly assaulted.
Shortly afterwards, several hundred migrant workers began blocking the traffic in the streets of the town in sign of protest. According to the national news agency Xinhua, the crowd attacked several official buildings with bricks and glass bottles. Twenty-five people were arrested
during the first night of protests, but the riots continued for several days. In the evening of Sunday June 12, several thousand protesters burned dozens of vehicles and clashed with law enforcement agents at a busy highway intersection.
Photos posted here.
Earlier this month, another violent incident pitted workers against police forces in Xintang. The crowd was protesting in defence of a migrant worker who suffered a knife attack
because he dared demand two months of unpaid salary from his boss.
"There was fuel for tensions already, but this incident ignited the fire"
“Sui” (pseudonym) lives in the Jiangxi province, in the north of Guangdong. He has been following the rebellion via Chinese social networks, in spite of the censorship.
have a very bad reputation
in China. They spend their days aggressively dispersing street vendors or extorting money from them. People get the impression that they are above the law.
There was fuel for tension already, but this incident ignited the fire. The fact that the authorities have not denounced the police actions has exacerbated the violence.
Guangdong is a very rich region [it is at the heart of the Chinese industrial exports] and many foreign workers have moved there in the past few years. The young vendor who was assaulted was one of them.
"People tend to keep themselves to themselves, but all it needs is one trigger to unleash the underlying anger."
The migrants work in dreadful conditions
. The factory workers slog twelve hours a day, seven days a week and their salary depends on how much they produce. That routine is crazy! I have some friends who come from the countryside and work in the factories. They are six to a bedroom and their only creature comfort is a fan. They don't do anything but work, eat and sleep. People keep themselves to themselves most of the time, but all it needs is one trigger to unleash the underlying anger.
“Citizens are less afraid than 10 years ago”
Recently, there have been several small incidents which have turned into big waves of protest. This is what happened in Inner Mongolia after the death of a shepherd. But I can't see anything like the Tunisian situation happening here because the Chinese protests are all isolated from each other. There is no national movement.
That said, it seems to me that citizens are less afraid than ten years ago. And, more importantly, they have got into the habit of taking photos and videos. Five years ago, this type of uprising would never have gained publicity except on small radio stations, and even then it would have been a week later.”
Photos originally posted here.
"There is tension between the locals and the migrant workers."
Lan was born in Xintang. She now lives in another region, but is still in contact with her family who have remained there.
For the moment, I have had no problems contacting my family, unlike during the riots in Xinjiang
when all lines of communication were cut.
People there tell me that the female street-vendor who was beaten is now dead, although that is not the official version. I was also told that the protestors began to attack official buildings but then they damaged supermarkets and cars.
My family told me that there are tensions between the locals and the migrant workers. Self-defence groups have been set up in some neighbourhoods in the town. I am very worried.”
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Ségolène Malterre.