Over the past few months, China’s business and political leaders have had to deal with all manner of protests. Take a look:– January 19: 1,000 people from Wanggang village protest against their corrupt Communist Party boss in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong.
– January 17: 8,000 workers protest uneven wages at Foster Electric Company’s factory in Guangxi Province.
– January 4: 2,000 steel workers go on strike in Chengdu.
– December 28: Workers in Guangzhou protest low salaries.
– December 27: 8,000 workers on strike at LG Nanjing factory to protest racism and low bonuses.
– December 17: The management of Dongguan Essential Paper Products Company abruptly disappears; workers stage a sit-in.There are numerous other examples. Protests and strikes of this size have been occurring at more or less this pace for weeks. Some large, some small. Some are settled quickly, others drag on. Unrest in China simmers just below the surface of society, with frequent small eruptions.Newly appointed US Ambassador to China Gary Locke noted yesterday that the situation in China is “very, very delicate.” Yet, he continued, “it would take something very significant, internal to China, to cause any type of major upheaval.”Via Meadia is not in the business of prophecies and cannot predict China’s future. China’s leaders have managed the consequences of public unrest so far, and Via Meadia strongly prefers a peaceful and smooth process of political and social development in China. But a big eruption could happen, sparked by any number of events. This week, China initiated tighter control of the internet, requiring Weibo (China’s Twitter) users to register with their real names. Also recently, Terry Guo, the head of Foxconn, which manufactures Apple and other products in China, complained at a year-end party, that “managing 100 million animals gives me a headache.” He was talking about workers at his company, and proceeded to invite a zookeeper on stage with him to present strategies on managing animals. Mr. Guo and Foxconn’s top managers shared a few laughs comparing their business to zookeeping.Tighter control by the government, frequent protests by the people, slowing growth, falling real estate prices, dismissive and out-of-touch elites: the Year of the Dragon starts on January 23. Could this be the year that the Dragon cuts loose?