Chinese residents and students stop petrochemical plant expansion in Ningbo, 2012

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Time Period:  
22 October
29 October
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Ningbo, Zhejiang province
To stop the expansion of Zhenhai Refining & chemical petrochemical plant in Ningbo. Some protesters may have also wanted the removal of the chemical plant.

Just two weeks before the once-per-decade Communist Party congress to announce the party’s new leadership, farmers in the Zhenhai district of Zhejiang province expressed their concerns about pollution and the increasing number of internal organ diseases and cancer in the area by starting a campaign against the proposed expansion of the Zhenhai Refining & Chemical petrochemical plant. The plant was affiliated with Ningbo Sinopec, a branch of the state-owned Sinopec petroleum company. A survey on the number of chemical plants in the area revealed that the closest plant was only 1.5 km from a local village although the proper distance should have been at least 100 km away.

The campaign began on 22 October 2012 when 200 farmers and local residents took a sit-in to the streets, blocking roads to a government building. They demanded that the state-backed chemical plants move out. They carried banners reading “We want to live, we want to survive.” Police blocked all major roads in the area to maintain order.

No details were found on the protest for 23-25 October, but on Friday, 26 October, the protests turned violent as thousands of protesters blocking the streets attacked police cars and threw bricks and water bottles at police officers. Police beat protesters with batons and used tear gas on them. They also dragged away protesters who dared to chant slogans. People expressed their concerns about the chemical plant’s production of ethylene and paraxylene (PX), a toxic petrochemical used in plastics, paints, and cleaning solvents, by wearing surgical masks painted with crossed out “PX” and other slogans.

By the afternoon the next day, police dispersed protesters gathered in a central shopping street. Protesters had been giving out pamphlets denouncing the chemical plant expansion. Police used tear gas and detained about 100 people who were later released. Although protesters had been uploading pictures and news of the protests onto Weibo, a Chinese micro-blogging site, the government continued to censor much information regarding the issue and events.

On Sunday, 28 October, thousands of students and middle class residents had gathered in Ningbo’s downtown square, carrying homemade banners and wearing surgical masks with skulls and bones and slogans such as “Protect Ningbo,” and “Return my health” painted on them. The government gave in to the protesters’ demands that night, announcing that they would halt the expansion project while they complete a “scientific review.”

On Monday, 29 October, 200 skeptics staged a sit-in, but police dispersed the group, arresting a few of the protesters.

Whether the protesters or the police started the violence on 26 October is arguable. Protesters may have started the violence on Friday, but the subsequent violent breakouts seem to be fueled by police trying to "disperse" the crowds by beating the demonstrators and dragging them away. The campaigners, and presumably the leaders as well, responded to the violence nonviolently by spreading via Weibo (and making viral) an image reading "I love Ningbo" and "We don't want violence, but we must have good health". The image helped the campaign gain popularity and supporters. Some demonstrators also helped distribute food and water and pick up trash. Approximately 20,000 to 30,000 people participated during the peak of the protests.

Research Notes

This protest was inspired by the recent wave of environmental protests in China including the Shifang copper plant protests in July 2012. (1)

Li, Lucy. "Ningbo residents protest against chemical plant expansion." Free More News, 22 Oct 2012. Web. 11 Nov 2012. <>.

Jacobs, Andrew. "Protests Against Expansion of China Chemical Plant Turn Violent." The New York Times, 27 Oct 2012. Web. 11 Nov 2012. <>.

Barria, Carlos, Jiang Xihao, Melanie Lee, Jonathan Thatcher. "Police disperse east China chemical plant protesters." Reuters, 27 Oct 2012. Web. 11 Nov 2012. <>.

Jacobs, Andrew. "Protests Over Chemical Plant Force Chinese Officials to Back Down." The New York Times, 28 Oct 2012. Web. 11 Nov 2012. <>.

"Chemical factory expansion stops after thousands march in protest." Shanghai Daily, 29 Oct 2012. Web. 11 Nov 2012. <>.

Ng, Jason Q. "Chinese anti-chem protests’ positive message thwarts suppression." Waging Nonviolence. 5 Nov 2012. Web. 23 Nov 2012. <>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Iris Fang, 11/11/2012