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Don’t Make China’s Middle Class Mad

The success of this weekend's protest against a chemical plant's expansion underlines the growing care the government is having to take with its restless, wired middle class.

Article written by guest writer Kecia Lynn

What’s the Latest Development?

Yesterday, after a week of mostly peaceful protests, government officials in the Chinese city of Ningbo backed down on its plans to allow the expansion of an oil and ethylene refinery. The concession took place after clashes occurred between police and the mostly middle-class protesters, who were able to record the events using their smartphones. Even after the concession, protesters returned to make sure it would stick. One said the officials “should say they are completely canceling the project. They should state clearly that they will stop doing these projects in Ningbo and the rest of China.”

What’s the Big Idea?

The victory highlights the challenges China’s leaders are facing with a population that’s becomingmore prosperous, more connected with the outside world via the Internet, and more assertive about their concerns. In the last five years, environmental demonstrations against the growth-at-all-costs economic model have been particularly successful, with officials in several cities bending to citizen demands. However, the government still exercises control over protests that are more explicitly political, and is less hands-off when it comes to punishing poor and working-class protesters. One writer suggests, “If China wants to move toward democracy using a gentle approach, it will depend on the middle class.”

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