The Putian Incident

Yesterday, I wrestled with the question: What is a mass incident? (see Statistics of Mass Incidents)

Is a mass incident something that involves "protests, riots, mass petitions and other 'mass incidents'."  Or "provocation/troublemaking, gambling, obstruction of official business and mob fighting" and other incidents?

Citing US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart: "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that."  Thus you should recognize a mass incident as such without needing to have a set of objective criteria.

So why don't you define whether the following event is a mass incident:

First, the event has been going on for several years.  It concerns the forced land requisition in Putian city (Fujian province) towards which the rural farmers object to the inadequate financial compensation.  The most visually stunning evidence is the following page of thumbprints on a petition (see Boxun on Decmeber 24, 2005):

Here is the latest development (Boxun):

[in translation]

There was a clash between police and citizens at Dingcuo village, Xindu town, Putian city, Fujian province.  Several dozens of rural farmers who opposed the government's acquisition of their land attempted to stop the government workers by force.  The local government sent several hundreds of police officers to suppress the effort, and injured dozens of people in the process.  The following photographs show the inflicted damage.


According to the criteria set for Jiangsu province (Statistics of Mass Incidents), an extraordinarily important mass incident is one which qualifies as:

1. An incident involving more than 5,000 participants with serious impact on social stability; [negative: there were only a few dozen participants]

2. An incident involving either laying siege and charging county-or higher-level party, government or military departments or other critical departments, or the attacking, vandalizing, looting and/or committing of arson against town- or higher-level party, government or military departments;  [negative: there was only passive resistance against an overwhelming force]

3. An incident in which the participants were particularly antagonistic and engaged in large-scale attacking, vandalizing, looting, arson and other criminal activities; [negative: this was not happening]

4. An incident interrupting major railroad arteries, state highways, expressways, major traffic hubs or urban transportation for more than 8 hours, or interrupting and/or preventing work at major state construction projects for more than 24 hours; [negative: the place was off the beaten trail

5. An incident causing more than ten deaths and/or more than 30 injuries with serious impact on social stability; [negative: no deaths and not more than 30 injuries]

6. An incident at a university by which students engage in large-scale marches, assembly, hunger strike, sit-in and petition outside of the school without permission, thereby leading to chain reactions in other regions with serious impact on social stability; [negative: no university or middle school students were involved]

7. An incident in which more than 500 people clashed with weapons and resulting in serious injuries; [negative: no armed clashes among social groups]

8. An incident in which more than 10 people engage in a prison riot; [negative: no prison riots]

9. An incident in which the impact on social stability extends beyond the province through interactive chain reactions; [negative: nothing is known about this case because of the total media blackout inside China]

10.  An incident not covered by the above but must be treated as an extraordinarily important mass incident.

Therefore, unless number 10 is invoked, this was not a mass incident.  But I believe that number 10 should be invoked because (1) the facts of this incident will reach the State Council and People's Congress petition offices in spite of all the obstacles raised by the local authorities (e.g. by arresting the representative elected to go to Beijing to petition and sending him to jail for inciting discontent); (2) this incident came to the attention of overseas websites such as this one to the point where this is an international cause célèbrè.  The argument was emotional through the photographs above.  This just has to be a mass incident of some kind or the other.  To put it simply, the bad guys will have to be punished somehow.

The second point is a fascinating media effect -- on one hand, you can have a hundred thousand people demonstrating out there but it 'did not happen' unless the media covered the event; on the other hand, if there are dramatic photographs at an event of just several dozens of people, this can become a major international event.