Demonstrators protest the planned construction of a waste incineration plant in the Panyu district of Guangzhou, Nov. 23, 2009.
Photo provided by demonstrator.
HONG KONG—Hundreds of protesters—mostly middle-class homeowners—in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou have staged an impromptu march through the downtown area, calling on the government to heed their views on plans to build a waste incinerator on their doorstep.
"Gradually they cordoned off sections of the area and cleared them of people," said one participant in protests outside municipal government offices, a property owner who declined to be named.
"They made us go into Central Park. We decided to stage a demonstration as far as Liberation Road, and then we turned in a circle at Dongfeng Road and came back again," he said.
"The march took about two hours. People were shouting slogans to oppose the incinerator and to keep Guangzhou green."
The protesters' calm, apparent sensitivity to media coverage, and use of online social media tools such as Twitter showed the authorities the potential power that China's burgeoning middle classes could wield in influencing public opinion.
Dialogue still difficult
But the stand-off also demonstrated that dialogue with officials remains a problem in China's growing number of public protests, even when the government says it is listening.
Another protester, surnamed Wu, said that around 1,000 people had gathered at the scene when police dispersed the crowd, and that several hundred had taken part in the march through the downtown area.
He said the protesters marched because they believed the government was distancing itself from them.
"Everyone was chanting slogans as we went to present our petition. Some were shouting for the officials to come out and talk to us."
"There were a lot of shouts for that outside the complaints office. I hope that we have managed to make our voices heard this time. I hope that the government will take them seriously ... and respect public opinion and solve the dispute."
Protesters' anger focused in particular on reported comments by Guangzhou deputy municipal Party secretary, Lu Zhiyi, who said he would listen to the views of the people, but that he hadn't received any views opposing the project.
"I think that this is trampling on public opinion, and I am very angry," said a protester surnamed Yao.
"This is a very densely populated area with a population of more than a million people. We think it's unreasonable. We are here today to make our views known to the municipal government."
Calls to the Guangzhou Municipal Management Bureau, one of the focuses of the protests, went unanswered during office hours Monday.
But an official who answered the phone at the complaints office of the Municipal Construction Committee said the authorities had had difficulty talking to a crowd which refused to choose representatives.
Representatives not chosen
"It is against the public security law to block the offices of the municipal government," he said. "Also, they refused to choose a representative, and so we reached a stalemate."
He said the government had informed the crowd by megaphone that 10 buses would be provided to take them to Panyu.
"It was total chaos, everyone shouting different things. How were we supposed to take their petition?" he added.
One user of the micro-blogging service Twitter reported Monday that the crowd had responded to the request to select five representatives with hoots of derision.
"We immediately shouted back, why don't you select representatives to come out and talk to us?" tweeted the protester.
Guangzhou-based blogger and social commentator Beifeng said the problem of choosing representatives often leads to a stalemate in disputes with authorities.
"If the government is to hold a dialogue with anyone, then there must be representatives," he said.
"The trouble with that is, they very easily become the targets of attack, and so often the government can't find anyone to hold dialogue with."
"The situation has progressed to a stand-off for this reason."
Building held off
Authorities promised Monday to hold off construction of a planned waste incinerator plant until environmental studies are finished, in the wake of angry protests by residents over the weekend, according to official media in English, which carried reports of the protests.
The Guangzhou-based Nanfang Daily newspaper also carried a brief report about the protest, which was even larger over the weekend, participants said.
China's official Xinhua news agency quoted officials on Tuesday as saying that the government would carry out a questionnaire-based survey and public hearing to solicit public opinion on environmental assessments linked to the project.
It said the Guangzhou Center for Urban Construction and Administration had received a petition from the protesters Monday.
It quoted environmental expert Feng Shengping, of the Guangdong Provincial Situation Study and Research Center, as saying:
"Not all garbage should be burned. As far as we know, nearly 70 percent of trash in urban areas should be recycled."
Original reporting in Cantonese by Hai Nan and in Mandarin by Xin Yu. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.