China's domestic unrest


Once again, China faces internal turbulence. The Washington Post reports:

Paramilitary police and anti—riot units here have opened fire with pistols and automatic rifles for the past two nights on rioting farmers and fishermen, who have attacked them with gasoline bombs and explosive charges, according to residents of this small coastal village.

The sustained volleys of gunfire, unprecedented in a wave of peasant uprisings over the past two years in China, have killed between 10 and 20 villagers and injured more, residents said. The count was uncertain, they said, because a number of villagers have disappeared, and it is not known for sure whether they were killed, wounded or driven into hiding.

The tough response by black—clad riot troops and People's Armed Police in camouflage fatigues deviated sharply from previous government tactics against the spreading unrest in Chinese villages and industrial suburbs. As far as is known, previous riots have all been put down with heavy use of truncheons and tear gas, but without firearms.

As a student of Chinese history under the late great John K. Fairbank at Harvard, I long ago learned the importance of just such waves of unrest in China throughout the millenia, and have told readers here that China's current mandarins cannot help but be severely alarmed, fearful of losing control. Dynasties in China come and go, and all political leaders are conscious of the possibility of losing the "mandate of heaven." Particularly when their regime overthrew another regime that was viewed as corrupt and ineffective.

The fact that China has bungled its handling of SARS and the chemical river pollution in Manchuria, which cut off the water supply for the major city of Harbin, does not augur well for the future. The possibility of bird flu spreading from human—to—human has got to be giving the autocrats the shivers. Historical dynastic cycles often ended with a major disaster — floods, earthquakes, collapse of dikes — which demonstrated the ineffectiveness of the rulers. That the Pacific Rim of Fire seems to be undergoing a period of enhanced seismic activity cannot be of much comfort. Nor can the seemingly erratic weather patterns.

China puts up a brave front as a centrally—controlled state. It is indeed that, but it is also ruled by a regime whose hold on power is far shakier than most Americans realize.

Thomas Lifson  12 09 05

Herb Meyer adds:

I checked out the Washington Post article, and it seems the villagers were protesting the confiscation of their land.  With the US Supreme Court's recent Kelo decision, I wouldn't be surprised to see this sort of thing start happening over here.  Amazing, isn't it, that a bunch of Chinese villagers can teach us how to respond to a goverment that tries to seize their property.....