Zhejiang Protest Over Polluting Factories Leads to Massive Riot

April 18, 2005

On April 10, thousands of villagers in Huashui town, Zhejiang province, began rioting after government authorities sent police in to disperse a group that was peacefully protesting the operation of chemical plants that have polluted the area for the past three years, according to news reports (South China Morning Post (subscription only), Reuters, Times Online, AFP, Duowei News Agency, Singapore Straits Times). The incidence of birth defects, illness, and poor crop yields has increased significantly since the plants were built, according to the reports. Villagers have voiced their concerns for at least the past year to local officials and then in Beijing, but no action was taken to address the pollution.

The reports indicate that in late March, villagers from a community organization began constructing tents and roadblocks to prevent the operation of the plant. On April 10, government officials were ordered to move the protesters. Some reports say that two elderly women were killed in the process. News of the incident spread quickly through Internet chat rooms, leading more to join what became a riot of thousands of people, as reported by Duowei News Agency.

News reports suggest that local officials were unwilling to close the polluting factories in part because succesful economic development forms the basis for their official performance evaluations. To address this problem nationwide, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) has recommended that public opinion and the state of the environment be considered in the evaluation of officials seeking promotion.