Posted by: David Stewart | September 27, 2011

Is China becoming unstable?

On Monday of this week, I experienced a first for me: a spontaneous mass protest in a major urban center with a police response. The most amazing thing is that this protest was not in Washington DC or liberal Portland, Oregon.

It was in Beijing, China.

Here was the live tweet I sent when it was going on:


The post got auto-forwarded to my Facebook wall, so you might have seen it there. A bit of irony here since both Twitter and Facebook are blocked in China. For some reason, my US phone still has access to them.

Here was an email I sent to Deb after the fact (with a few minor edits). I think it tells the story pretty well.

[Our] office in Beijing is in the Global Trading Center, a gleaming collection of four towers. ([Our company] is on about four floors of one of the towers, and each tower has about 23 stories, so there are a lot of people here).

I ran into [a friend] and we went to lunch together. When we reached the lobby, it was jammed with people sitting around the lobby in various places and crowds of people all over, some shouting and pushing. We were prevented from using the main doors of the building, and shunted out a side door.

After we ate, we walked around the building and there were police vans all around. Main doors were still cordoned off by security employees but there were fewer protestors. Nobody would tell [my friend] what was going on.  Later I heard that it was the people who used to live in the area where the buildings are located were forcefully evicted and now they are upset because they feel cheated.

[My friend] tells me that society is quite unstable now – this kind of thing is happening more frequently. He was on the train up to Beijing and there was a group of 20 women who had come to Beijing to protest some mistreatment in their local city, but had no money to return on the train, and were protesting.  Of course, none of this is in the news, you only hear of it word of mouth. I did however read in today’s China Daily that 51 government officials were arrested because of forced evictions and demolitions.

Sounds like the race to modernize the country is taking a personal toll that doesn’t reach the public.

After I came back from lunch, I heard sirens as more police rolled up. Then I had to give some presentations and have some meetings, so I didn’t pay much attention to what Beijing sit-in protestwas going on in the lobby. Finally, it was getting close to 4:00PM and I needed to leave the building for a meeting that was elsewhere in Beijing.

As I was leaving the lobby, it seemed that things were pretty calm – no more shouting – but the lobby was absolutely filled with people sitting all around the edge of this huge lobby. The main doors were not blocked, so I was able to leave.

But just outside the lobby door, I counted several police vehicles parked. I kind of wondered whether the protestors and police were in a bit of a standoff. It made me think that perhaps the police would wait until all of the office workers would leave for the day and then quietly bundle them off to jail or wherever. Or perhaps they would start a ruckus again when masses of office workers headed home.Police outside the Beijing building, containing the protesters

Before I exited, I captured a couple of cell phone photos – one was of the people sitting in the lobby in protest and the other of the police parked outside one of the doors. I didn’t try to make a big deal out of taking the pictures, which is why they look kind of crappy.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, my personal reaction to this was not one of fear, I was really curious. "Cool! I get to experience this first hand!" I really must be mentally defective. I had the same reaction when I was in a near airplane disaster (one of our two engines quit on a flight to San Francisco) and I was seated in the exit row. I remember being disappointed that we had a safe landing and I didn’t get to help people out of the emergency exit. Like I said, I must have a gear or wire missing in my head.



  1. People are not afraid of poor, but unfair. People do not care that you are rich while I am not, but the rich do evil. Here rich is equal to power.

    It’s nice to read your blog.

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