Ningbo drops chemical project amid protests, but it is truly victory?
After days of protests over the proposed expansion of a petrochemical plant, the authorities finally gave in to swelling opposition by announcing that the environmentally sensitive project, which is expected to produce p-Xylene, or PX, will be permanently cancelled.
Protesters who braved the online censorship by uploading photos of the scenes onto Chinese social media sites prided themselves on their concerted and peaceful effort to protect their hometown, marked by civility and altruism displayed during the protest that, in their words, “are loving and tear-jerking”.
The Ningbo Municipal Government made announcement about termination of the PX project at 6:45 p.m. on Sunday, both through its official account on Sina Weibo, China’s most popular microblogging site, and through the city’s broadcasting system. But passionate crowds did not disperse right away. Many of them kept standing in front the government office compound and demanded the release of fellow protesters that had been previously detained by the riot police. According to several witnesses who stayed until late night, at around 9 p.m., at least a few hundred police officers dashed out of the government compound and swooped down on protesters at the entrance. Many protesters who did not manage to escape were arrested and dragged into police vehicles.
On Sina Weibo, not all observers were excited about the so-called victory of the public opinion. While there is a consensus that from now on, it is increasingly hard for a local government to jerk the people around by making environmentally sensitive decisions single-handedly without having them participate in the process, it remains a question if the authorities will hand down subsequent punishment or backpedal on their earlier promises once the spotlight is turned away. Some commentators even pointed out that in Dalian, where a NIMBY protest over a similar PX project last year forced the authorities to scrub the plan, production resumed in secrecy after public furor subsided.
Here is on overview of the developments in Ningbo and reactions on Sina Weibo on Sunday:
@小巷中的怪蜀黍 : The deputy chief of Ningbo Public Security Bureau said with an off-putting face: “No national anthem singing! No national anthem singing!” I would say this buddy will surely betray the country within ten years…
赵楚：The deputy chief of Ningbo Public Security Bureau shouted in the square, “Whoever sings the national anthem will be arrested!” Everyone knows our national anthem is The March of the Volunteers, which was the song Chinese sang at the time of national crisis to encourage struggle for independence and freedom. So I want to ask the Ningbo authorities, are you a government run by Chinese or by Japanese occupationists?
@陈耀军律师：At around 11 a.m., more than more people gathered on Tianyi Square. A group of young men in their 20s began to shout slogans and broke silence. Soon afterwards, a bunch of riot police officers came and arrested whoever they see were shouting slogans. Before long, they arrested a dozen. 早上十一点左右，天一广场人开始多起来，二十几岁的那群年轻人开始喊口号，平静的气氛被打破了。过了一会，来了一群特警，看到谁在带头喊口号就直接抓人，不一会功夫就抓了十来个。
@那个宁波的老黄：A few things to thank today: 1, thanks to those who led the singing of national anthem. It seems the song, if sung in large groups, is really intimidating to those cadres. 2, thanks to the cancer patient who showed up and spoke out. It was as if he gave his earnest and solemn admonition in defiance of death. 3, thanks to the old people who knelt down in front of the city government, who let us know the sense of superiority that the public servants enjoy. 4, Thanks to the cooperation of telecom service provider for saving me the costs on mobile data usage by not allowing photo uploading. Oh, by the way, give my thanks to your damn father!
@被抢注的哎乌: Ningbo people were so rational that they did not even block roads and instead congregated around the fountain. When the ambulance came, they spontaneously backed off to make way for the vehicle. They are almost as good as Hong Kongers. The government is cruel and inhuman.
@mis-liz ：When we were chatting on the roadside, a few ladies said they would take the trash away. They even brought their own garbage bags. I look back and see no trash in this large square! This is the quality of Ningbo people’s character! Ningbo’s officials do not deserve Ningbo’s people!
@王冉：I’ve learned some elderly people knelt in front of Ningbo’s government building. Power does not come out of kneeling and kowtowing. Your knees may get red from kneeling, but their eyes won’t get teary from it. Straighten your back, look at them in the eyes, and tell them what you want and what you don’t want. These are the rights each and every citizen is born with.
@墨者梁文道：How stupid, sordid and absurd is this? It can truly dumbfound the entire world. In order to prevent supporters and foreign journalists from entering Ningbo, the government has covered up all the road signs that point to Ningbo.
司令本：Well, don’t tell the cadres that we all have GPS. 千万别告诉领导我们都有导航系统哦
@暮天钟A ：(Tears!) 1, when the foreign media showed up, on the spot there was thunderous applause! Which lasted a long time! Many people shed tears! Even the foreign reporter had tears running down! It shows how much Ningbo people yearn for support and expression! I burst into tears too. 2, When the heart-shaking singing in unison began, tears were everywhere! Even a soldier ten meters away from me had tears rolling down his cheek! I was so moved deep down! Indescribable feelings.
@醒醒吧———-辛巴 ：You speak for Ningbo people. You have Ningbo people “at your back”.
@宋歪麦: By essay writer Wang Shengqiang: With such a huge matter going on in Ningbo, not a single Chinese media organization arrived at the scene to report it. One foreign news outlet went there, and people welcomed it as if it were their family. When the crowds blocked the camera’s view, the people volunteered to hoist the reporter up. This scene reminds me that when the Eight-Nation Alliance launched the attack on Beijing’s imperial city, ordinary people volunteered to held the ladders for them. As the saying goes, “When the state disregards the people, the people disregard the state.”
@梅溜溜: This lady in black dress bought over 1,000 yuan’s worth of pastries and said she would hand them out to students at the scene. I truly respect her! 这个黑衣女子在85度买了1000多元面包说要给现场的学生吃，我非常敬佩！
记者刘向南：Ningbo, a girl who picked up the litter in the crowd. I am truly touched by a compatriot like this! Those who claim Chinese are too ill-mannered to be ready for democracy, you should apologize to our citizens who are like her!
高处不胜醉: #moving# today in front of the city government building, a few elderly men and women pulled a few young men away and said to them, “Boys and girls, you step back. Later, if those inside come out and arrest people, you guys can escape, otherwise, you will be locked up in there and your study or career will be affected. We are old and can run no more. It is okay even if we get locked up. After all, we’ve already retired.” My eyes immediately got wet. Are they what those SOBs called “unruly citizens”?? This is love, isn’t it?!!
妞妞Jean ：People from Zhenhai district are invincible! They walked all the way to downtown Ningbo through the tunnel.
@一毛不拔大师: Some people defending the PX project argue that there are also many PX projects close to urban centers in Europe and America. But there are coal mines in Europe and America too. How about their death rates among miners, compared to China’s? If the government tries to convince the public, at least be clear about what waste discharge facilities their plant will use and how are they compared with their European and American counterparts; what standards they can meet; who is held accountable in the event of failure. If they have done none of these, how can they blame the public?
@假装在纽约：When people in Xiamen hit the streets and fought for their city, guess most people in Dalian did not care, thinking it did not concern them. When Dalian people took to the streets, guess many in Shifang were indifferent. Likewise, when Shifang people hit the streets, many in Ningbo did not care. Now, people in Ningbo are walking on the streets. Those who are still indifferent, when do you think is your city’s turn?
@我不是云遥就怪了: The fight by Ningbo people for their health and life makes me aware of the strength of Ningbo people. People in Zhenhai district were capable of walking 30 kilometers (17 miles) to the downtown. Countless people handed out food and water for free to citizens.
Ningbo announcement: decisions after the authorities’ discussion with the investor of the project: (1)Never start the PX project; (2) The first phase of the refinery and petrochemical plant integration project is suspended until further scientific assessments.
@老徐时评: The authorities in Ningbo announced the termination of the PX project. I feel happy for and proud of Ningbo people from the bottom of my heart. This is victory of democracy. This is victory of the people. This is victory of Weibo…
斯伟江: Ningbo government has made the right choice by respecting the public opinion. Then they should release people they’ve detained. It is clearly against the law to detain people only because they have participated in the demonstration or spoken out and taken photos. Any form of subsequent punishment is going to offset the right choice they’ve made.
@王火山Volcano : On my way home, there were all private cars waiting on the roadside with their hazard flashers turned on and ready to take anyone from Zhenhai home. Touching!
@薄雪草QIQI: There is a whole line of cars with hazard flashers on waiting to pick strangers up. Suddenly I feel an itch in my nose and a rush of warmth in my heart.
宁波杨秋云: It is now 19:10 (7:10 p.m.). There are still tens of thousands at the entrance of the Ningbo government office shouting “Release them!” Now people are really impassioned! Please, don’t let the situation get out of control!
@絮儿VV: People at the scene still don’t want to leave. “Release them, release them,” the voices reverberate through the night sky. And there are still riot police officers coming out for arrests! Hot-blooded young men can only throw water bottles at them! Now a big motorcade of police cars comes out. No idea what big shots they are. The cadres sitting inside the car, do you have any conscience? I am home now. Friends at the scene, please go home ASAP!
宁波杨秋云: I just witnessed some tragic scenes right on the spot! At around 9 p.m., nearly a thousand police officers dashed out of the government compound and chased citizens at the entrance. Citizens stampeded in horror! At 9:06 p.m., many people were arrested. Students, elderly people, men and women were one after another thrown into a bus!
@颜小兽zhi旅行季：#I love Ningbo# I escaped the scene…Attention: I mean escape, literally…Too horrific…So many people were arrested…And beaten the moment they were shoved into the car…I am truly concerned about those fellow townspeople who have been arrested. Ningbo…I cry for you tonight.