Faceoff in Shifang – photos of China’s largest and bloodiest NIMBY protest in recent history
July 4, 2012Jing Gao6 Commentsdemonstration, Environmental Issues, Environmental protection, governance, NIMBY, Petitioner, post 1990s, post 90s, post-1990, protesters, Protests, riot police, Shifang, sichuan earthquake, SWAT, wenchuan earthquake
Tens of thousands of civilians in Shifang, a small city in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province, clashed with the riot police and SWAT team in the past three days after petitions against a chemical plant in the pipeline were ignored by the local government. While there have been many English language news reports on the matter, Ministry of Tofu strives to gather first-hand narratives from Weibo, the Chinese hybrid of Twitter and Facebook, and reenact this event so that you can understand the cause and the scope of the chaos that has captured the nation’s attention.
(Almost all of the personal accounts and photos of the incident cited below have been shared by thousands of Weibo users.)
On June 29, Shifang announced the start of the construction of a 10.5 billion yuan (US$1.65 billion) molybdenum-copper alloy factory by Shanghai-listed Sichuan Hongda, and held a grand kickoff ceremony on the planned site of the factory, which was attended by important figures, including Huang Mengfu, Chairman of All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, and Gan Lin, deputy governor of Sichuan.
On July 1, some residents in Shifang and students were worried about its adverse impact on the environment and decided to rally all citizens of Shifang and petition the government to drop the construction plan.
Translation of the flyer that petitioners sent out (Picture above):
Citizens of Shifang, please save our hometown!! The city of Shifang is already a ‘cancer village’, and now they are going to build that heavy metal industrial molybdenum-copper alloy plant. We are strongly opposed to it. This is our home. Protecting it is our responsibility. It is everyone’s responsibility to protect the environment!!
Perhaps many people are not aware that a molybdenum-copper alloy plant is being built in Shifang. Even more people do not know its hazards. But it will be too late by the time the construction of the plant is finished. We don’t want to leave Shifang. It is “the Pearl of South Sichuan”. We can’t leave it behind. Heavy metal pollution is very harmful to us.
How many of us Shifang people have the money to relocate to another province? So we must be united as one and concentrate our efforts on keeping the molybdenum-copper alloy plant as far away from Shifang as possible.
Stand up, people in Shifang!!
On July 2, a large number of students and citizens took to the street for a protest demonstration against the chemical plant. Large crowds congregated at the gate of the Shifang Municipal Government compound. Riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades in an attempt to disperse angry crowds, injuring at least 13 people according to a press release by the government. In order to prevent the matter from spiraling out of control, the city’s mayor promised at the end of the day to the crowd that the project “is suspended and will not resume unless the people support it.”
@潘诗语：People in Shifang braved rain to boycott the construction of the molybdenum-copper alloy plant; they will never give in.
@Real棂谶元亨 ： The Yujiang village in Shifang, Sichuan is going to have a molybdenum-copper plant. Its pollution will far exceed that of Fukushima Nuclear plant after the earthquake. Severe pollution will occur within the radius of 60 kilometers, which may cover the downtown of Chengdu city. The cadres embezzled funds and took bribes. Those living next to the molybdenum-copper plant were each given 20,000 yuan (US$3,148) as hush money. Five years later, Shifang will become the largest cancer village in the country. Please pay attention to Shifang’s molybdenum-copper plant crisis. Good-hearted people, please help Shifang. Shifang people are seeking help!! Please spread this news!!!!
@方希文_: Those opposed to Hongda molybdenum-copper plant signed their names on the banner.
Shifang’s city government posted on its official website an open letter titled “Sobermindedness is the necessity of our happiness.” The letter is strongly worded, using language that resembles revolutionary slogans during the Cultural Revolution. It was removed from the website after it came under unanimous criticism and ridicule.
Translation of excerpts of the open letter:
July 1 is the birthday of the Party. Some people with ulterior motives sinisterly and groundlessly publicize this project and instigated unwitting students to rally around the Shifang Municipal Party Committee, which drew large crowds.
Molybdenum, copper, as well as other trace elements, are elements indispensable to our human bodies and plants. Multiple human organs contain molybdenum. The highest content can be found in liver and kidney, and they are naturally expelled from our bodies in urine and bile. Are we really going to listen to wild rumors from others, cut down all trees and flowers, stay away from molybdenum and copper, and in the end destroy our own bodies to get rid of molybdenum and copper?
Poverty gives rise to the desire for change. Lagging behind makes one vulnerable to attacks. Don’t have a blind faith in the paper tiger. They are extremely cruel and merciless and will only deliver unrest, by introducing the anti-humanity Falun Gong (a spiritual movement labeled a cult and banned in China) to a third country and funding Dalai Lama’s splittism clique.
What the Chinese Communist Party aims for is an era of prosperity and jubilation that will be celebrated by the entire nation and benefit the entire humanity. The center of the world will slowly gravitate towards China. Shifang is a small city where people live in peace and contentment, where people have ample food and clothing and expect to prolong their life span. But its people cannot be taken advantage of by others to do things that will damage the basis of our happiness and our image.
On July 3, dozens of anti-riot vehicles transporting a SWAT team rolled into the city, and came into clash with the protesters again during the day. More tear gas and grenades were fired. In the scuffle, some protesters masked their faces with wet towels and threw tear gas grenades back to the riot police. In the confrontation, 28 people were arrested.
The Shifang city government wrote on its official Sina Weibo page on July 3, “Will firmly uphold people’s legal rights. Will firmly maintain social harmony and stability.”
@坏人你好笨：This is the splinter I picked up on the spot. Please share it and find an expert to identify what the police have fired at the people! Just around tis splinter were many bloodstains, some dripping for meters!
@花轮colin ：Why people, in the face of tear gas, SWAT teams, paramilitary police, and crackdown by the relevant party, still didn’t want to go home and instead chose to resist? Such human behavior will only occur in one circumstance, which is, when their lives are threatened. Battlefield, a word that once sounded so remote, is now so close to us. Panic, stampede, scare. Is this our hometown?
@lychee颜歌：There are too many “first times” today. Except during menstruation, it’s my first time to bleed so profusely. First time to see my own bone. First time to have stitches. First time to be “@”mentioned by so many…What I really want to say is, after I got injured, I still managed to drag my bleeding legs along and walked two blocks. I was very strong and did not feel like crying at all. But when I saw pictures of unarmed people got hurt, I really wanted to cry! We simply hope that our hometown is free from pollution. That’s all. Is that too much to ask?!
@中国公民6666 ：You each came from ordinary families and are a citizen. After you became a cop and put on the police uniform, you feel powerful. The duty of a policeman is to maintain the peace and order of the society and punish crimes. And now you have the gall to swing your baton at these girls who took to the street in defense of their homes! Everyone should have his own principles. Even if someone gives the order, you still need to have a good conscience deep down your heart! Otherwise, you will live in condemnation for the rest of your life!
@任晓雯: These cops are zombies. They also fall victim to the deterioration of their living environment, but they have lost their independent thinking.
@郑敏：Look at the glorious image of the people’s police! Hand them a baton, and they will hurt people’s heads. Hand them a knife, and they will make people bleed. Hand them a gun, they will make people’s families fall apart.
仗剑-89：This is just a baby face which more or less displays some naivety. What kind of evil force has driven them to swing their batons at old people and kids and reduced them to mobsters?
@柠檬蔷薇：Yesterday, SWAT officers were carrying shields and batons. Today, they were changed to guns. We really start to fear.
@陈竹竹cmz：Just now, some policemen came to this section of the street for lunch. The rice noodle guy said bluntly that they don’t serve policemen. Then the entire street shouted at them. What a sight! Now many restaurants and stores put up a sign at the entrance saying that SWAT officers are barred. How exciting that is! Anyone in Shifang should do this. They deserve it. Let’s all boycott the police. You beat us and fired at us, and you want us to serve you food? Eat my shit!
@二新V10：People in Shifang have started to donate money to their fellow protesters who have been injured with great spontaneity.
On the late evening of July 3, tens of thousands assembled at the gate of the government compound and demanded that authorities release a few students who had been held against their will. Parents of the students knelt down in front of the gate. The crowd chanted in unison repeatedly “Release people!”
It is later learned that the mass protest demonstration was actually launched by high school students in Shifang. On the evening of July 1, hundreds of high school students went to the town hall to petition. The second day, various schools warned students that they would be expelled from school if they continue to participate in the protest. Undaunted, they took to the street with their parents.
Even though by the end of July 3, the Shifang government gave in to unprecedented public indignation from within and outside and vowed to terminate the project, students were still held in custody, which generated people’s fear that the government may settle accounts with the protesters afterwards.
On July 3 evening, tens of thousands demanded release of students held by the government against their will.
“For the sake of people in Shifang, we can make sacrifices. We are the post-90s generation,” the sign reads.
@炮打司令部V：The post-90s generation in Shifang, you made me cry in silence. I just want to tell you: You must live, and live well. It is those old douche bags in power who really deserve to be sacrificed…
@韩寒 (Han Han, the most prominent blogger in China): Many people say Wenchuan earthquake changed views of the post-80s generation. Then Shifang has changed many people’s views of the post-90 generation.
“Fighting for your freedom is fighting for the country’s freedom. Fighting for your rights is fighting for the country’s rights. Because a free and just country is never built by a bunch of lackeys!” – Hu Shih