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Public anger over pollution in China is finally being taken seriously


Pollution and its health effects are a leading cause of unrest in China as the country’s rapid economic rise is accompanied by often appalling environmental side-effects.

The air in most cities is regularly barely breathable and most of China’s rivers are poisoned.

Pollution is the single biggest source of complaint among young people, and most environmental protests are carried out by educated, middle-class Chinese, worried about the danger to their families that environmental degradation can cause.

They are a key demographic for the ruling Communist Party, which needs their support to ensure the party retains its grip on power. The party has acknowledged that rising public anger over environmental disasters is a threat to stability.

There have been several examples in recent years of limited action by middle-class protesters forcing a climb-down by local authorities, and often environmental issues are the contentious issue.

In 2007, demonstrators took to the streets of Xiamen, a city on China’s south-east coast, to protest against plans for a plant producing the chemical paraxylene (PX). The protests became so high profile that authorities backed down, and sought other locations for the plant.

In July last year, there was a violent demonstration in the city of Qidong, near Shanghai, over a planned waste pipe at a Japanese-owned paper factory. Again, the government backed down and cancelled the project.