Following Ningbo’s civil protests over chemical project on Weibo
The third major wave of NIMBY protests out of environmental concerns erupted in China’s southeastern city of Ningbo in Zhejiang province. But what makes it different from the previous two, one in Shifang, Sichuan province and the other in Qidong, Jiangsu province, is that the flow of information about the protest is obstructed on Chinese social media.
The opposition to the local government’s decision to expand a petrochemical plant in the coastal city’s Zhenhai district started on October 22, as residents became worried that the project, once completed, can cause toxic pollution and wreak havoc on health of locals, fetuses in particular, in the long run. 200 villagers petitioned to the district government by besieging the office compound and blocking nearby roads.
Children in Ningbo wear mouth masks in protest: “PX (P-Xylene, the main product of the petrochemical plant), Get the Hell out of Ningbo!”
“PX. (P-Xylene, the main product of the petrochemical plant)You Can Remain Silent, But Do Not Be A Coward. Protect Zhenhai, Protect Ningbo.”
In the next few days, an increasing number of protesters congregated at one of the city’s squares as more and more residents were briefed on the potential health hazards the project poses by word of mouth and flyers passed around by volunteers.
On October 26 and 27, when the conflict reached its climax, riot police used tear gas and fire hose against protesters and detained many for taking photos, wearing mouth masks with slogans. Multiple protesters were roughed up and beaten up by the riot police.
A foreign cameraman covering a large NIMBY protest in Ningbo, China, gets lifted up by local people who are eager to get the message out when the domestic media are ordered to ignore them.
But on Sina Weibo, Chinese Twitter and a platform that proves extremely effective for publicizing and raising awareness of protests, information about what has been going on in Ningbo is scanty and fragmented. “Beijing Chuzi” (‘Beijing Chef’ ), an online activist, even complained, “I remember during the Shifang incident, I learned about the origin, the status quo and the goal of it in one single microblogging post, and what I needed to do was simple: to share. I recall at the time, the number of shares just soared within a sec. This time it is really weird: what is on Weibo is all snippets and impossible to share. Do people in Zhejiang really suck at using Weibo?”
Probably. The fact that environmental activists in Ningbo did not blanket Sina Weibo with their petitions and grab the nation’s attention may have given the Ningbo authorities and censors at Weibo plenty of time to maneuver. At the end of June, even before the demonstrations broke out in Shifang, volunteers had been networking online to plot the protests and seeding Weibo with their concerns about the toxic side effects of the copper molybdenum plant – in their posters and catchy slogans. By the time local residents took to the streets, pictures and posts that flooded Weibo had already made it impossible to sweep Shifang’s problem under the carpet. Searches for the word “Shifang” were not even blocked on Weibo, and few postings, except the most inflammatory and unsettling ones, got deleted.
This time, the Ningbo authorities, having learned the lesson of Shifang and been given enough time to preempt, stemmed the spread of the news by shutting down communications with outside Ningbo: many residents report that they cannot upload onto Weibo photos they have taken with their smartphones or use instant messaging tools unless they change location settings and turn off WiFi connections. Moderators at Sina Weibo are also frantically taking down undesirable content. It is even revealed that journalist and celebrities, who have a wide following, have been told not to relay any message related to Ningbo’s project.
Notifications from Sina Weibo for removal of “inappropriate posts” about protests in Ningbo
One net user’s claim: “I asked my journalist friends and celebrity friends. They all got told not to share messages related to this. It seems the information has been suppressed…We can only depend on Ningboer’s own strength.”
However, Chinese netizens always outsmart and outrun moderators. Ministry of Tofu has sorted out related Weibo posts that seeped out (some of which no longer exist) in Ningbo to give you a detailed look into the events.
@阿拉伯水烟专卖:Flyer printed by an old granny. Is this the truth?
@宁波正能量: Even at such an age, the old man has come to the street. Deeply moved.
豌豆黄瓜汤：When the construction was planned, did any of you consult us for our opinion? After the construction was completed, did you supervise it strictly? The government needs PR in crisis, but it shouldn’t be on a high horse like this. Remember, the people are your parents that give you clothes and food and not your slaves. You should speak for the people, not throw tear gas at them.
@伊塔smile：We demand back our green air. Demand our fellow villagers that are of one heart be released. Release them. Release them.
@皑恭喜: Witness who came back said, there were little babies on the scene, who cried out loud after the delicate eyes smarted (from the tear gas). The funny thing is, the police, after using tear gas, fled in their own vehicles…
@傑克牌风扇: [Last night’s Zhenhai (District)] I hold tight in my hands my heart filled with attachment and devotion to my motherland, but in return I got the heinous batons and tear gas!
@玊砳：The motorcade transporting the riot police on the highway leading to Ningbo…
@阿拉伯水烟专卖： [Black Saturday] The black uniform can be seen everywhere in the square packed with people. Today’s Ningbo was dyed pitch dark.
@阿拉伯水烟专卖：They’ve taken away all of the mouth mask wearing people. Damn.
@阿拉伯水烟专卖：Here comes a heroine. The young girl. The people in Ningbo will thank you.
@mishow916：I just got a phone call from my mom. The paramilitary police in Zhenhai has just started to beat people up. They hurt people with batons, by breaking their ribs, and then hauled them onto the police vehicles. They don’t allow medical aid! Don’t allow photography! They said it is according to the order from Ningbo! What kind of government is that! What kind of country is that! I feel like crying!
@罘藟: I saw it with my eyes three were arrested. Now they are beating people up. (My) tears keep racing down. There just aren’t enough people.
@奥利奥Oreo: All Weibo images are blocked. The police beat up whoever they see. Tear gas is used. Even the fire hose. They reward 20,000 yuan to any civil servant that does not participate in this movement; 50 yuan to any ordinary citizen (that does not participate). They falsify poll. Is it still the people’s government?
@醉在陶中：I got arrested! Argued bitterly with the police officers on my way to the police station! Now I am rescued by my fellow Ningbo townspeople! Temporarily free! What impressed me most is a father and a daughter cried out loud while trying to rescue me! Deeply touched!
iHoome胡俊：Just now, a young man in his 20s was dragged into a police car and got beaten by five or six thuggish police officers. I saw it with my own eyes!
@张洲:Hehe, awesome. I’ve seen this stuff before. Only the paramilitary SWAT team has it. This type of iron glove is often used against armed people. The outside is a layer made of iron. The inside is a soft padding layer. When hitting on hard objects, your hand feels as if it is hitting cotton, but the people you hit most likely will suffer bone fracture. The four things that look like nuts are nicknamed “teeth armor.” You definitely need it when you wish to break one’s teeth.
@赵楚：From Shifang to Ningbo, all types of tear gas, all types of vicious beating by the paramilitary police and riot police. They even have the gall to arrest people for wearing mouth masks. All of these are for a single industrial project! From the absurd combination of guns and industry, we an see the most ridiculous logic about power in the era: Since political power can grow out of the barrel of a gun, money can surely also grow out of the barrel of a gun. Having ruled for over six decades, they still have a blind faith in gun.
连鹏：Today’s Ningbo Evening Post spreads an advertisement for an emigration agency across the page, and today’s top headline: “Joy from Flying Away.” Is it silent protest? Behind the smart sarcasm is sadness. When the media is prohibited from reporting freely, and the public cannot speak freely about things around them that they have a stake in, what can they do except escaping?
@Sea_木木：They start their frenzy of deleting files again! Almost everything we posted at the scene got deleted! The police start their force again! But I am moved. When we were singing the national anthem aloud, tears came down against my will…
Beasts! They showed even no mercy to the old man in his 60s or 70s! You guys were also born and raised by your parents, our “People’s Police”!!!
We are also taken into the car, simply because we’ve posted things on Weibo!!!