China Power

Explosive China

A series of explosions across China have highlighted how unhappy the public is, and how detached local officials are.

I’m usually based in Beijing, but I can still feel the tension that has been building across China. The Chinese Communist Party celebrates its 90th anniversary on July 1, and the propaganda unit isn’t allowing the media to report too much ‘negative’ news. However, there have been a number of bombing incidents in the past couple of months, which have given the public a growing sense that society is becoming unstable.

In May alone, there were six serious bomb incidents in China’s northern and southern regions, targeting government offices. Indeed, many have described May as ‘explosion month.’ The most serious incident was on May 26, when a man who was unhappy that a dispute over demolition work couldn’t be resolved placed bombs in five government offices.

Once details of the incident started filtering out, the media started suggesting that China was facing its own Osama bin Laden-like threat. But some netizens sympathized with the perpetrator, arguing that human rights are more important than the rule of law, and adding that many who have had their human rights infringed upon have no legal way of seeking redress, meaning they sometimes have no choice but to take ‘revenge’ on society.

In June, the bombings continued. Early on June 9, an explosion occurred at the Zhengzhou public security bureau. The official explanation of the incident was that something had spontaneously combusted due to the high temperatures. However, the public greeted the explanation with disbelief. The same day, around lunchtime, a serious explosion occurred in Hubei, which reduced a four-story building to rubble and killed a policeman in the process. Police said the more than two tonnes of explosives came from a coal mine.

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On the morning of June 10, explosives were reportedly thrown at the Tianjin municipal government office, shattering the windows at the office and leaving three people injured. Investigators found that once again, the perpetrators wanted ‘take revenge on society.’

The current economic model clearly can’t be sustained, and China’s economic development is at a turning point. There are inevitably going to be social problems and conflict, which will require the authorities to take stabilizing measures to calm the public, while also working to ensure people can still benefit from the country’s rapid economic development.

The big problem is that although the central government may be determined to ‘govern for the people,’ the same certainly can’t be said for local government.

Corruption is rampant at the local level, as officials continue to cash in. Meanwhile, many local government officials continue to use planned economy methods when trying to manage an increasingly open society, which has caused what should be minor disagreements to escalate into serious threats. It’s this mismatch that is ultimately the main stimulus for the bombings.

Corruption and government inaction have become the two main obstacles to social progress in China. Indeed, a unit of the People’s Bank of China recently published a report suggesting that about 18,000 corrupt officials have fled China, taking with them more than 800 billion yuan from the state.

Two days later, the unit said that the figure was incorrect, but didn’t provide any revised figures. This prompted netizens to vent their fury online. One writer caught the prevailing mood when he wrote: ‘Of course the figure is wrong. How could it only be 800 billion yuan? There must be a zero missing.’