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We, the People of Kunming, Prefer Clean Air to Rapid Development


Depending on who you ask, “hundreds” or “thousands” of people marched on the streets of Kunming, China, today to protest the construction of a chemical plant owned by CNPC, the national oil company. This is the second such protest in the past month, and representatives from many world news organizations were on the scene to watch the demonstrators brave police batons and plain-clothes thugs to show their displeasure with the government’s lack of transparency about the environmental impact of this potentially dangerous facility.

“We, the people of Kunming, cherish the skies of blue and the clouds of white, as well as good air. If you want to build a refining plant with a capacity of 10 million tons where we live, we resolutely oppose it,” one protestor told a reporter from the Voice of America.

The Kunming protest made headlines today but it is only one such protest against the CNPC’s facilities that use PX, a chemical used to make plastic, and only one such protest by Chinese citizens against the government, which often take place on a smaller scale across the country.

Yet the Kunming protest and similar events show the challenges that the government faces in maintaining economic growth while keeping the people satisfied. It’s a difficult balancing act, and it’s going to get tougher as Chinese people in ever greater numbers start agitating for more of a say over their lives and surroundings. But if the Chinese people want their country to continue on its path of rapid economic development, PX factories and others like them must and will be built, in Kunming or elsewhere. As Jeremy Goldkorn, a China analyst, wrote on Twitter, “Kunming: now what are they going to do? Move the PX to some place with peasants who don’t use Weibo, right?”

[Online photo from anti-PX protest on May 4, via]

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  • Corlyss Drinkard

    “We, the people of Kunming, cherish the skies of blue and the clouds of white, as well as good air.”
    If that were true, you would have stayed on the farm. But I wish you all the best with your effort to persuade city administrators.

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