Today's News Out of China: The Dalian 'PX' Protests

By James Fallows

I'll just note this event, with pointers toward more extensive coverage:

The Democracy ReportIn my current article about this year's political crackdowns in China, I mention the argument that China's government, despite its phenomenal success in engineering high growth rates, is under much more pressure and challenge than outsiders generally realize. I cover a variety of reasons -- not including the recent high-speed rail crash and its aftermath, which happened after we went to press and has caused tremendous bitterness about official corruption. But the article does mention China's environmental catastrophes and the reactions they are provoking across the country.

Today tens of thousands of people are on the streets of Dalian, in northeast China, to protest pollution from a big factory making paraxylene (PX), a toxic chemical used in plastics and synthetic fibers. This is how things looked on Sunday morning in downtown Dalian.

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And here is some dramatic "CitizenTube" footage from today (thanks to Steve Grove):



For description and analysis, you  can start with Guardian coverage, or this from Global Voices Online, with leads and links to other sites. Additional photos here. UPDATE: Please see this followup from China Media Project in Hong Kong about how coverage inside China is being censored. Update^2: A useful item on China Beat gives important historical perspective on Dalian.

Those who remember the popular slogans of the Beijing Olympics era will understand why I am particularly touched by the slogans on this protest montage.

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These are offered not to magnify China's problems but as reminders of the extremely complicated mixture of successes and failures with which China's people and its government are contending. For instance, Dalian is probably most familiar to US newspaper readers as the site of regular World Economic Forum ("Davos") regional meetings. Therefore it is often the dateline for visitors' goggle-eyed reports on the pace and perfection of China's modernization. Today Dalian is an illustration of China's challenges as well as its achievements.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/08/todays-news-out-of-china-the-dalian-px-protests/243572/