The Daye Incident

Edward Cody in the Washington Post wrote about mass incidents in China:

Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang said last month that the number of ''mass incidents" was rising fast across China, according to a report in a government-funded newspaper confirmed by an official who heard Zhou speak at a closed meeting. In 2004, Zhou said, 3.76 million of China's 1.3 billion people took part in 74,000 such protests, which he said represented a dramatic increase.

Perhaps more worrisome, Zhou continued, is a ''noticeable" trend toward organized unrest, rather than the spontaneous outbursts that traditionally have led to clashes between citizens and police. But the minister added that most protests erupt over specific economic issues rather than political demands, suggesting they are not directed at bringing down the one-party system that has been in place in China since 1949.

That is fairly abstract, so people's concrete image of these mass incidents are based upon widely publicized cases such as:

Edward Cody also mentioned the impact of the Internet on rapid information dissemination:

The fallout from a series of demonstrations has been magnified recently because of loosened restrictions on news reporting and increased use of cellphones and the Internet, even by villagers in remote areas, according to government-connected researchers and peasants involved in the protests. Although Communist Party censors try to stifle reporting on the unrest, they said, word of the incidents is transmitted at a speed previously unknown in China.

The following is a summary of a Yazhou Zhoukan report on a mass incident.  Unlike the widely publicized incidents, this one is not about land requisition, or industrial pollution, or unfair labor practice, or abuse of official power, or police brutality.  Yet, this is probably larger in size and impact than any of the others.  It is also different in that news about this mass incident is not widely disseminated.  Here is what Reuters had to say:

About 100 residents from Daye, a city within the larger city of Huangshi, petitioned the Huangshi government on Thursday over a plan to change its status to that of district, Hong Kong's Wen Wei Po newspaper reported on Monday.  The protesters felt that downgrading Daye to a district would allow Huangshi to siphon away its funds.  Police ultimately brought out dogs to end the protest and four petitioners were bitten, the newspaper said.

Two days later, on Saturday, a crowd of about 10,000, angered by the dog attack, converged on the Huangshi city government and party offices, smashing windows and property, Wen Wei Po said.  The crowd wrecked more than 10 vehicles, the newspaper said.

Here is YZZK's description of the mass incident on August 6:

[translation]  August 6 was a hot Saturday with the local temperature reaching 38 degrees Centigrade.  Mr. Li lived next to the Wu-Huang Expressway and he saw the road lined with people early in the morning.  "At the time, there were many public buses parked on the side of the road, and the buses were pull of people wearing t-shirts and shorts."  Mr. Li sensed that something extraordinary was going to happen.  At just after 10am, in front of the Huangshi City government building, more than 20,000 demonstrators were gathered.  They carried banners that said "Protest Huangshi police beating people," "Swear to protect Daye City", "Punish police abusers, give us back our Daye, give us justice."  The demonstrators demanded the Huangshi city leaders to come out to talk to them, but no one came out to talk to them.  At this time, the demonstrators began to rush the courtyard in the government building.

There were several hundred police officers armed with shields and batons.  The police fired three rounds of tear gas to disperse the crowd.  The incensed crowd began to combat with the police.  The several hundred police officers were hapless.  By 11am, the crowd at the gates charged at the police and threw rocks and other objects.  By 1130am, the defense line at the entrance could no longer withstand the pressure and the government ordered all the workers evacuated.  The demonstrators took over the Huangshi government building.  All objects from the first to fifth floor, including the golden signs that say "Serve The People" were smashed.  All car parked inside the Huangshi government building were vandalized.

After assaulting the government building, the demonstrators then turned their attention to the Huangshi City public security office on by the side of the Wu-Huang Expressway, while shouting "Down with corruption, Protect human rights."  At one point, the demonstrators blockaded the Wu-Huang Expressway and caused north-south traffic to stop for two hours.  During the process, two supermarkets by the Wu-Huang Expressway were vandalized and looted and a police car was turned over.

The Huangshi government asked for help from the Hubei provincial government.  But by the time that several thousand police officers arrived from Wuhan in the afternoon, the damage was already done.  At after 4pm, the demonstrators got back into their hired buses to return to Daye.

What in the world is going on here?  Why were these people out there?

With the central government now ready to develop the western portion of the country, the word is that the city of Wuhan will become a municipality just like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing.  If and when that happens, Hubei province will get a new provincial capital, which is desired by all the other cities.  Obviously, size counts in this competition.  Huangshi was going to get Daye to be changed from a county-level city into a district within its city limits, for an instant increase of 900,000 in population.

When the reporter interviewed a Daye citizen by telephone about the impact of the change in Daye's status, he said, "Actually, the people don't feel anything one way or the other."  A Huangshi citizen said that it did not make much of a difference, and he didn't understand how the Daye citizens could get organized so quickly or why they reacted so strongly.


An informed source told the reporter that there were several Daye iron mine owners among the demonstrators.  They said that they were willing to contribute money to defend Daye.  They even openly stated that when Daye people go to demonstrate in Huangshi, if anyone should get injured, they will pay for all medical expenses; if anyone should get killed, they will pay 500,000 yuan in compensation.  Among the 20,000 people surrounding the Huangshi city government, many of them are peasants from around Daye and they were transported here by the hundred or so public buses.  Mr. Li heard from the crowd that the mine owners were offering 100 yuan for each demonstrator, with another 20 yuan for lunch subsidies.


A constitutional scholar said that this mass incident may or may not be manipulated by special interest groups, but the whole process showed an explosion of social discontent.  The fact that a mass mobilization was realized in a very short timeframe -- whether this was due to actions by special interest groups or political forces -- and the challenge to the government by social violence is going to force the Chinese government to think about the vast gap behind the slogan of a harmonious society.

As a famous theorist asked, "What is to be done?"  From my current reading, I found a virtual instructional manual for the Chinese government:

The expulsion of expatriate dissidents has been effective and should continue in appropriate cases.

With locals, a few of the small hard core of real radicals can be won over.  In cases where it becomes evident that success is unlikely, attempts to ridicule and to discredit those concerned may be the best alternative.  But the positive measures (about which recommendations follows) are of far greater importance.  For the main emphasis should be on preventing the radicals' influence from spreading by isolating them from their more moderate supporters and ensuring they do no win public sympathy.

Their influence may spread if they seem to force Government to make concessions under pressure.  More care than ever should thus be taken to anticipate rather than react to complaints.  When plans are made (especially for clearances liable to affect peoples' livelihood or housing) there should be suitable machinery to ensure

(a) likely grievances are foreseen, examined with care and sympathy and if possible pre-empted before they can become public issues;

(b) particular attention is paid to the need to conisder the presentational aspects of what is contemplated and to handle public relations appropriately; and

(c) in case incidents nevertheless occur, arrangements to handle them have been agreed upon beforehand, so that the response is prompt and co-ordinated.

The support of the moderates and the uncommitted should be rallied, or at least their understanding secured.  They want to see greater overt social progress; clear objectives which appeal to their idealism and with which they can identify.

I particularly liked the part about 'the need to consider the presentational aspects of what is contemplated and to handle public relations appropriately.'  All form, no substance.  Unfortunately, as distateful as this sounds, history showed that it worked great.  So where did this document come from?  The book that I am reading is Reading Colony by Wang Huilun and the document is a letter between the British colonial government in Hong Kong and the London Home Office recently declassified by the British National Records Office.

Another interesting part of this letter is a listing of the radical elements in Hong Kong.  One organization is the Chinese University Students' Union, which is being accused of these radical activities:

Since 1971 the C.U.S.U. has been engaged in:

a) University reform

b) The use of Chinese as an official language campaign

c) The protection of Tiao Yu Tai movement

d) Support for blind workers in the Hong Kong Society for the Blind dispute

e) Support for residents in the Sugar Street condemned building dispute.

A leading personality of security interest is:

CHENG Hoi-chuen, Vice President of C.U.S.U.  A third year student (economics) of New Asia College, he is an extreme radical student deeply involved in student and social reform activities.  He had dealings with blind workers and residents of Sugar Street (see (d) and (e) above).

Who is Cheng Hoi-chuen?  Today, he is THE TAIPAN of Hong Kong.  Specifically, he is the Chairman of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited (HSBC).  Here is his biography:

Mr Cheng joined the HSBC Group in 1978, when he worked in the Group Finance department of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. He moved to the bankís Group Planning department in 1982, before he was appointed Chief Economist in 1986. From April 1989 to April 1991, he was seconded to the Hong Kong Governmentís Central Policy Unit and served as an adviser to the Governor of Hong Kong. He rejoined HSBC in 1992 as Senior Manager, Economic and Strategic Research, before becoming the bankís Chief Financial Officer in 1994. He took up the post of General Manager in June 1995 and then Executive Director in November that same year. He was appointed Vice-Chairman and Chief Executive of Hang Seng Bank in 1998. He became the Chairman of HSBC in May 2005.

Mr Cheng was a Member of the Executive Council (the Hong Kong Governmentís highest policy-making body) between 1995 and 1997 and a Hong Kong Affairs Adviser to the Peopleís Republic of China between 1994 and 1997. He was also a Member of the Legislative Council from 1991 to 1995.

Mr Cheng was educated in Hong Kong and in New Zealand, receiving his Bachelorís of Social Science Degree in Economics from The Chinese University of Hong Kong and a Master of Philosophy in Economics from The University of Auckland.