More than 10 million people took to China's streets during the course of 2003 as part of a mounting wave of popular protests which is sweeping the country, RFA's Mandarin service reports.

Just before the annual meeting of China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), in March, the Chinese Communist Party published the official count of demonstrations in 2003.

According to the statistics, reported in Hong Kong�s Dong Xiang magazine, more than 2.3 million people took part in petitions, marches, and sit-ins in urban areas in 2003, with the number of demonstrations totaling 12,370.

In rural areas, 8,124,260 people participated in 8,763 demonstrations. Provinces with assemblies larger than 1 million participants included Henan, Liaoning, Hubei, and Hunan. Provinces with assemblies larger than half a million participants included Shanxi, Anhui, Jiangxi, Sichuan, Hebei, Shandong, Shaanxi, and Heilongjiang, the magazine said.

The Hong Kong-based editor at Qian Shao magazine told RFA that these figures�big as they appear�could even have been toned down by the government. "Ten million people aren�t that many. There were probably more. China is so big, with so many cities and towns. Twelve thousand three hundred demonstrations aren�t too many, either... There were more than 300 in the city of Shantou alone," Jiang said.

Guizhou-based dissident Zeng Ning told RFA that he frequently witnesses such demonstrations. "When I take the bus, I often encounter people�unemployed people who block the traffic. I have also seen people demonstrating or staging sit-ins in front of government buildings," Zeng said.

China�s new generation of leaders under President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao has scrambled to identify itself with ordinary Chinese people, struggling in the face of rampant official corruption and a growing gap between rich and poor. However, its emphasis on putting people first has yet to be felt by most.

The requisition of land by local governments and state-owned enterprises is a frequent cause for complaint, as local residents are evicted from their homes with little ceremony and scant compensation so local governments can cash in on skyrocketing property values.

Another common complaint is the non-payment of salaries and retirement pensions by local governments, which are perennially short of cash. Police brutality and beatings to death in custody have also triggered social unrest in some areas.

"They often demonstrate because of the compensation for the requisition of their land," a person familiar with such protests from southern China told RFA's Mandarin service. "They are often poorly paid for the land requisitioned for building expressways and for city expansion...After the township and the village take their cut, only a small portion is left for the farmers," said the activist, who preferred to remain anonymous.

In an attempt to prevent protests�which have so far been mostly caused by specific, local complaints�from spiralling out of control, the Party also recently issued a series of guidelines for the handling of protests by local officials.

Among the rules noted is a prohibition on the use of lethal force to handle public protests, "for any reason.�

Individuals who engage in abusive behaviour towards Party and government are likewise not to be met with lethal force, although limited armed force can be used if demonstrators assault government buildings, the rules say.

Attendance at demonstrations by provincial and city officials is mandatory for protests where the numbers reach 1,000 or more, the guidelines say, highlighting that well-organized demonstrations caused by "hostile powers, illegal underground religious powers and treasonous hostile powers" should be handled by targeting the leaders. #####


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