I was walking back from lunch near the Teach For China office with some colleagues the other day when I was surprised to come across a line of protest graffiti scrawled across the barrier outside a nearby construction site. In my estimation, news coverage of protests and acts of dissent, at least in Western news, seems to be on the rise. It would be hard to read only the New York Times coverage of China and not believe that the country is going to crumble under grassroots protests any day. However, public acts of dissent are still quite rare in Beijing, and I can’t remember ever coming across such a public one as this graffiti. Most of what I could read on the walk back was protesting the results of overconstruction and pollution in Beijing:
Environmental woes are one of the main driving forces behind the rising frequency of protests in China, and while protests in rural areas are usually dealt with swiftly and harshly, the government has actually by necessity become, in some instances, more responsive to the demands of middle class and urban Chinese. Elizabeth Economy’s statement at this Congressional hearing in DC this spring gives a good summary of the recent trends.
The big Chinese dissident news of the day, though, is of course that Ai Weiwei, the increasingly world-famous artist-turned-activist, was finally released after three months of detention. The New York Times argues that this is a rare instance in which the Chinese government actually caved to international pressure.