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Chinese middle-class and farmers protest petrochemical plant in Chengdu (Chengdu Stroll), 2008
On the weekend of 3 and 4 May 2008, 400-500 residents in the capital city of Chengdu in the Sichuan province gathered in protest against the ethylene and petrochemical plant being constructed in Pengzhou, a neighborhood about 18 miles northwest of the city. Most protesters were concerned with pollution, and asserted in interviews that the plant should fulfill an Environmental Impact Assessment. Protesters were concerned that Chengdu’s location in the basin downstream from Pengzhou would make it particularly vulnerable to water pollution from the plant. Some sources indicate that a significant minority of protesters were farmers displaced by the plant construction, though most were identified as middle-class urban residents.
The plant construction was estimated from $5.5 billion to $7.1 billion dollars by various sources, and was backed by the Chinese government and the PetroChina Sichuan Petrochem Industry, a branch of PetroChina, the nation’s largest state-run oil company. The project was proposed as a part of a comprehensive plan to expand the country’s refining industry.
Statements concerning a protest called the “Chengdu stroll” were posted on a website frequented by Lian Yue, a blogger instrumental in the 2007 Xiamen protest against a planned chemical plant in that city. It is believed that there was a tight network of bloggers who collaborated with organizers of the Xiamen protest as well as with organizers of the January 2008 protests in Shanghai. Though unclear, numerous sources identify Chen Daojin and Chen Yunfei as members of this central network. Though the organization of the protest is difficult to date, it is clear that buzz surrounding a Sunday afternoon “stroll” peaked during Saturday, 3 May 2008. A text message stating “Protect our Chengdu, safeguard our homeland. Stay away from the threat of pollution. Restore the clear water and green mountains of the Sichuan” was reportedly circulated by the organized group of bloggers.
On Sunday afternoon 4 May, the 400-500 protesters gathered in central Chengdu and walked around talking together. There were no reports of chanting, marching, or banners, but many protesters wore white face masks, reportedly to show their concern about the pollution threat of the plant. The relaxed demonstration was praised in the The Beijing News on Monday 5 May 2008 as a “rational expression of public opinion.”
An unspecified number of police broke up the demonstration Sunday evening, and announced in a police report later that week that some 5 protesters were being detained for "fabricating and spreading rumors, distortion, incitement to riot and illegal demonstration." At least two were arrested, including Chen Daojun for “inciting subversion of state power.”
On 12 May 2008, a huge earthquake, estimated at a magnitude of 8.0, struck in the Sichuan province. The earthquake was incredibly devastating, killing a reported 68,000 people. Shortly after the quake, the government cancelled the PetroChina plant in Pengzhou reportedly due to the threat posed by a natural disaster in the future. It is thus unclear what influence the protest on 4 May played in the construction plans.
Despite the unclear success of this march, it has had lasting influence. The use of the word “stroll” has continued to be used to organize protests in China, as it often slips under internet censors and subverts the requirement for formal protests to apply for permits. It was notably applied in the Dalian and Haining environmental protests of 2011.