Update: Social Unrest in Zhejiang Province Results from Citizen Frustration over Industrial Pollution

October 27, 2005

Recent protests in Zhejiang province illustrate the growing social unrest caused by environmental pollution. The problems in Zhejiang province also demonstrate the effect that corruption in local Environmental Protection Bureaus (EPBs) has on environmental conditions in many places in China.

  • In August, thousands of town residents in Jianxia village of Meishan township protested against a battery factory that is causing lead pollution, according to a Washington Post report. The factory’s pollution has been the target of a number of protests and about 40 arrests, according to an August 23 article in the South China Morning Post (subscription only). In late June and early July, angry Jianxia village residents had protested outside the same battery factory, eventually taking it over and keeping about 1,000 workers locked inside in an attempt to force the factory to close, according to a July 1 South China Morning Post (subscription only) article.
  • Also in July, farmers began protesting pollution from a factory in Shengzhou City, Xinchang county, that was polluting the town’s water. Police had suppressed the protest by the end of July, according to an August 8 South China Morning Post (subscription only) article. Xinchang authorities pledged to move the factory by 2007, according to the report, but have not addressed the damage that has already been done to the local environment.
  • In April, thousands of Huashui town residents gathered to protest pollution from a chemical factory that has been affecting the town for three years.

Corrupt local officials often seek to protect local enterprises, even if they pollute, because local governments usually derive income from local enterprises and officials are evaluated on how well they promote local economic growth. Corrupt local officials pressure local EPBs to overlook pollution and take no action against polluters. Moreover, corrupt EPB officials sometimes allow polluting enterprises to continue operation, because their often underfunded departments derive additional funds from collecting fines from polluters, according to a Legal Daily report.