Thousands of students, supported by their parents and teachers and mobilising through online social media, played a central role in the recent protests against plans for a heavy-metal plant in Shifang , Sichuan province.
Now some people are asking whether this “post-90s” generation, as it has been dubbed by the mainland media, will turn up elsewhere to defend its rights and even push for democracy.
Han Han , the mainland’s most popular blogger, is among those who have praised the role of these teenagers and young people in the Shifang protests.
“Post-80s” refers to those who were once regarded as members of a generation seen as spoilt as a result of the mainland’s one-child policy, a perception that was overturned after many of its members flocked to Sichuan to take part in relief efforts after the region was hit by a devastating earthquake four years ago.
Han pointed out that post-90s youngsters from around the country had mobilised in support of protesters in Shifang after about 5,000 students took to the streets of the county-level city on July 1 to oppose plans to build a multi-billion-yuan molybdenum-copper alloy plant in their hometown.
The tension escalated the next day, with nearly 10,000 local residents joining the demonstration and blocking the entrance of the local government office when the authorities failed to respond to their concerns.
Hundreds of riot police, equipped with helmets and truncheons, clashed with protesters on July 2 and 3, chasing and beating them and also firing tear gas and hurling stun grenades.
Dozens, if not hundreds, of protesters, many of them high school students, were badly beaten by police.
A 15-year-old pupil who identified himself as Xiao Jie was among those beaten by baton-wielding police. He suffered extensive and severe bruising to his back and shoulders, as well as a number of cuts.
A typical post-90s youth, Xiao Jie said he smoked half a packet of cigarettes a day, liked drinking beer and was fond of playing online games and dating girls. However, he is also committed and brave and showed no signs of fear despite the beating he took on July 2.
“As a student, I will resolutely oppose the project because of concerns it will bring us pollution,” he said a few days later. “One of my classmates was detained by the police. Just like everyone who was caught, he was severely beaten before he was released at around 2am the next day.”
But what has made these young people so eager to defend their hometown from potential pollution? Xiao Jie and two other high school students said that instead of barring them from participating in the protests, most of their parents supported them in fighting for their rights and safeguarding the environment.
Some teachers also appear to have played a role.
A 16-year-old student at Shifang’s Qiyi Middle School said: “Around March, one of my teachers told us in class that the pollution in Shifang was very serious, especially in those areas around Shuangsheng town , where a large number of chemical plants are located.”
He said the teacher had told them that if the new plant was built, Shifang might become a “cancer county”.
“Apparently nobody paid much attention to what she had said at that time,” the student said. “But all of a sudden, a huge number of posts about the project appeared on the internet around June 28. In the following couple of days, many local QQ users from different groups declared they would take to the street and voice their concerns on July 1.”
Tencent QQ is the mainland’s largest social networking site, with hundreds of millions of users.
At about 9am on July 1, thousands of protesters, with students leading the way, took to the streets, carrying banners reading “No More Pollution! We’d Like A New Shifang” and “We Want to Survive, Money Cannot Buy Everything”, he said.
Wang Dan , a leader of the student-led Tiananmen pro-democracy movement in 1989, said in Tokyo last week that what had happened in Shifang was encouraging in terms of democratic development on the mainland.
“I believe the general public on the mainland, particularly those youngsters, including the post-90s teenagers, can push the Chinese government towards democratisation,” Wang said.
He may go too far in expecting the post-90s generation to play a major role in advancing democracy on the mainland at this stage, but one thing is certain: many of them won’t budge an inch when it comes to fighting for their rights and safeguarding their local environment.
The Shifang government backed down on July 3, with party secretary Li Chengjin announcing on television that the controversial project had been scrapped.
“It’s all right if they stop there. But we will come out again and protest for sure if they try to rebuild it,” Xiao Jie said.Choi Chi-yuk
South China Morning Post
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