Tweeting Middle Class Joins Major Environmental Protests in China


Photo via the Telegraph

There are more protests in China every year--an estimated 100,000 of them--than any other nation. Most of these are orchestrated by the poor, demanding human rights and economic equality--and most are stamped out and covered up by the Chinese government. But now the middle class is getting fed up, too. In this case, with better access to resources like computers and Twitter and the help of hackers who broke through the Chinese government's firewall, hundreds of well-off Chinese caught the attention of international media with a protest against a garbage incinerator being put up too close to their homes.The Telegraph reports that "More than 1,000 people took to the streets in a district of Guangzhou to protest against the building of a rubbish incinerator near their homes." The protest began led by the poor, but was joined by many from the middle class. It may seem like a relatively minor cause compared with certain other recent Twitter-aided protests, this is a big deal. It's evidence that the Chinese middle class is growing confident enough to assert its displeasure with government policy, and is willing to display resistance.

With the help of Twitter, of course, which is creating a case for itself as the most important information sharing tool of our era:

The crowd expanded as members sent real-time reports on the protest through Twitter, the micro-blogging website, and posted photographs on the internet. While Twitter is officially blocked by the government in China, it has a growing following among internet users who can route access through private servers abroad.

And the participation of the social media savvy middle class appears have been the tipping point in getting the gov's attention.

The appearance of upwardly-mobile Chinese on the streets quickly attracted the attention of journalists from a campaigning regional newspaper. A senior government official, Lu Zhiyi, who was the target of the protest, also arrived after a few hours to diffuse the demonstrations. The demonstration ended peacefully after the government promised to complete an environmental assessment before the project goes ahead.

"The government is really much more anxious about the middle class and how they are using new forms of communication and networking to form into groups. They are worried that they don't have control over the ways in which people can assemble. These people are more articulate, they can generate some press coverage, they can keep protests going and they share information," said Charles McElwee, an environmental lawyer in Shanghai.

Some hopeful evidence of winds of change in China indeed.

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Tags: Activism | China | Coal | Pollution | Waste