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August 27, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright August 27, 2009. Used by permission.


Many things have happened in the PRC this year that echo phenomena discussed in China in 2008: A Year of Great Significance, including the recent renewal of Shanghai protests relating to train lines. As Associated Press reporter Elaine Kurtenbach notes in her valuable dispatch on the subject, the latest demonstrations have been on a smaller scale than the early 2008 ones discussed in our book. They have also been directed toward a more convetional kind of railway (albeit one that moves very fast) rather than a Magnetic levitation (Maglev) one.

Nevertheless, Kurtenbach’s summary of the situation (in this case regarding a line that would head out of the city in order to link Shanghai to Hangzhou, as opposed to one that would run through the heart of the metropolis to connect its eastern and western districts) describes a familiar source of discontent. Here’s how she puts it: “China’s topdown style of governing and state-controlled media allow for scant public input, and increasing affluence has left many residents expecting more opportunities to be heard.”

The developing situation seems similar enough overall that of the early 2008 anti-Maglev “strolls” (a term used by protesters to suggest a reasonable and non-confrontational call to be heard rather than a militant action) and some other urban struggles of the last couple of years (e.g., the 2007 Xiamen demonstrations trigged by plans to built a chemicle plant) that it seems useful to provide a few links here to commentaries on those events of the recent past. The use of the acronym “NIMBY, standing for “Not in My Backyard,” seems appropriate again (it is a term that some of us commenting on the anti-Maglev protests used at the time), since the 2009 railway protests again involve homeowners and renters trying to protect the livability of neighborhoods and sometimes also the health of their children and their property values.