Thursday, July 03, 2008

An interesting snapshot

News of a major riot in southwest China has been percolating through since last weekend, with latest reports suggesting that as many as 30,000 people were involved.

The unrest in Guizhou Province was sparked by the local Chinese authorities' cover up of an alleged rape and murder of a 15-year-old female student. Residents in Weng'an county went on the rampage demanding justice after police had dismissed the case as a "suicide", not murder.

Angry locals swept and torched the police station, government buildings and dozens of police vehicles. The provincial government mobilised around 1,500 armed police to quash the rioters. Reports suggest that at least 200 people were arrested, including 30 high school students. Three people are reported dead and at least 150 injured.

This comes at a particularly sensitive time for China, which is counting down to the final days before the Beijing Olympics. The government has started a nationwide stability push to prevent any domestic unrest upsetting the Games or spoiling China's quest to present itself as a harmonious nation.

What is interesting, therefore, is that, despite China's state censorship, news was broken by a number of blogs which had posted photographs of the violence long before the official news agencies were admitting its existence. Blogs linked to the popular Sina.com Chinese website (www.sina.com.cn) showed pictures of thousands of people surrounding a police headquarters, riot police guarding the burning shell of the building, and burnt and overturned police vehicles.

That, in itself, is an interesting snapshot of life in modern China – where even this government cannot entirely control the flow of information. Whether the news of the riot supports the contention that China is on the brink is anyone's guess but, if it is, it looks like we have a better chance of finding out than we did previously.

One wonders, however, to what extent it will get media coverage. Comparisons are difficult but it is a fair bet that, had a riot of this size occured in the US - or Israel - with its freer access and better communications, it would have got far more exposure. As it is, there seem to have been no references to it in the UK print media.

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