CHINA

In a county of a million people and not one train, anger boils over

Linshui County, in southwestern China, is home to one million people – that’s roughly the population of Dublin, Ireland. And yet it doesn’t have a single train station. So when local residents heard that plans to bring a major new railway to the county had been scrapped, thousands of them took to the streets.

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Screengrab from third video below.

Linshui County, in southwestern China, is home to one million people – that’s roughly the population of Dublin, Ireland. And yet it doesn’t have a single train station. So when local residents heard reports that plans to bring a major new railway to the county had been scrapped, thousands of them took to the streets.

The protesters’ anger was set off by conflicting reports in the media about whether the high-speed railway would go through Linshui - thus helping to develop the region – or whether this plan had in fact been scrapped in favour of another route further to the west. Calls for protests were spread through text messages and online. These messages announced a new “Railway Protection Movement”, in reference to the 1911 political movement against plans to nationalise China’s local railways that helped bring about the downfall of the Qing dynasty.

Demonstrations over the weekend began peacefully but soon turned violent, with police beating protesters, and some protesters hurling rocks at the officers. Demonstrators chanted “return our railway” and “we want the railway to achieve development and prosperity.” Videos and photos of these incidents were shared widely on social media, some showing bloody-faced protesters, prompting Internet censors to block the search term “Linshui”.

Police and protesters face off on May 16.

More than 30 police officers and 38 bystanders were hurt, according to local officials, who added that an ambulance and two cars were also burned.

Protesters hurling rocks at police on May 17.

Local authorities said Monday that construction plans were still under discussion, and that no decision had been made. They downplayed the protest by calling it “a gathering of a minority of people”.

This is not the first time a train project leads to tensions. Residents of two cities in Hunan, Shoayang and Loudi, held protests in early May because they were both competing for a high-speed railway line.

Police beating a protester.