Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Warning: Non-direct-interest Conflict Growing in China

The number of social riots in China has been increasing in recent years

China is seeing a dangerous trend, the increase of non-direct-interest conflict, where many participants of protests or clashes with the police actually have nothing to do with the issue at question itself, but only use the participation as a way to let go their anger or doubts toward the government.

The problem is discussed in an article published in the December issue of Baixing magazine, an out-spoken media outlet based in the mainland.

In recent years, it is not rarely seen that some small quarrels in the streets evolved into large-scale riots involving tens of thousands of people, many of whom had no specific interest pursuits in the protest.

The trend is manifest among migrant workers in Guangdong, for example. Those who had specific interests at stake and those who did not often mixed together in protests. Often times, it was spectators, not the protestors, who threw stones at the police, the article says.

However, the phenomenon is far from simply people’s meddling, but rather demonstrates the conflict of interests between different groups, if not necessarily individuals, the article goes on to point out.

For instance, a farmer selling vegetables on the road side without authority permission was asked to leave by some city inspectors but refused to do so, and a fight broke out between the two sides. Hundreds of people walking by started to join the fight, mostly sympathetic with the farmer and criticizing the inspectors for not allowing the farmer to sell his products and to make a living. Among the crowds might be people who had similar experience of being pushed around by authorities and held the feeling of being oppressed. Therefore, non-direct-interest conflict is “group-to-group conflict; is the formation and division of social stratus,” the magazine article says.

“Due to past unfair treatment [from the authorities], [people] accumulate antipathy over time and feel themselves being the obvious or potential subject of persecution, and therefore try to let the feeling off their chests when there is a chance,” especially when they do not have sufficient channels to complain or defend their interests, says the article.

The peculiar conflict is characterized by an attitude that “nothing [done or said by the government] is trustworthy,” the magazine says. It warns that the problem, if not dealt with properly, could eventually harm the foundation of government ruling, because it sends a dangerous signal showing antagonism between government officials and the public.

The article attracted many discussions after it was posted on the Internet last week. Most of the commentators expressed their sympathy toward such non-direct-interest conflict.

Some say it is the result of non-electoral designation of government officials, and a way for the public to express their opinions. Some interpret it as the manifestation of the increasing class conflict in today’s Chinese society, the conflict between those who have privileges and the mast majority of plain citizens, or lao bai xing. There are also voices haling such public involvement in conflicts, calling it people’s awakening and social conscience.

----by Josie Liu

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