From The Observer:
China fears riots will spread as boom goes sour
Today millions will leave the cities to return to their rural family homes for the new year celebrations. But this year Beijing hopes the newly jobless revellers will stay there – to prevent a fresh wave of unrest in the cities
Tania Branigan in Dongguan
The Observer, Sunday 25 January 2009
They surged into the grimy streets around the factory: first scores, then hundreds, then more than a thousand, as word spread and tension loaded the stale, grey air. The boldest overturned a police van and smashed up motorcycles, then tore through the building destroying computers and equipment. The mood was exhilarated, angry and frightened.
“It happened so quickly … There were maybe 500 involved and another 1,000 watching them. People were yelling: ‘It’s good to smash’,” said a witness.
But the riot late last year at the Kai Da factory in Dongguan, amid the grim industrial sprawl of the Pearl River Delta, was not an isolated incident. It was one of tens of thousands of protests, many erupting from the same mixture of economic grievances, resentment of police and swirling rumour.
The numbers have been climbing steadily for years. But as the Chinese New Year dawns and the global economic crisis deepens, the government fears that mass unrest could challenge its control of the country, threatening a communist regime that has embraced capitalism with spectacular results.
Today should be the highlight of the year for migrant workers in the country’s southern manufacturing hub, but the hundreds of millions who have travelled home for their annual family reunion have little to celebrate. This is the year of the ox in the Chinese zodiac; a symbol of hard work and tenacity. But no one feels bullish as exports plummet and factories shut their doors.