Rare mass protest breaks out in Chinese province near Hong Kong

Jamie Fullerton

Chinese police clashed with protesters in a southern province near Hong Kong over the weekend, in a rare case of public dissent which saw hundreds demonstrate against the building of a crematorium. 

Video footage circulated on Twitter, purported to be of the protests, showed police firing tear gas and chasing people in the town of Wenlou, Guangdong province. The footage also showed rows of police vehicles  tipped onto their sides. 

Some citizens, including one elderly person, were seen lying unconscious on the ground, while others were shown surrounding police vehicles and shouting: “Protest!”

Xi Jingping, China's leader, gestures at a press conference - AFP

Major protests are rare in China, where the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has little tolerance for dissent. 

The clashes took place around 60 miles north of Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protestors have been taking to the streets since June, initially demonstrating against a proposed extradition bill between the semi-autonomous region and mainland China.

Protesting being illegal without government approval, large-scale demonstrations against the central government are all but unheard of on the mainland in modern times. 

Though protests against local authorities about issues such as environmental concerns, city planning and workers’ rights occur from time to time, it is rarely on the scale of the Wenlou skirmishes.

The protest began on Thursday, continuing for two days before authorities announced that they had suspended plans to build the crematorium.

Wenlou residents had reportedly been told that a new park was being built, before they discovered that the land was actually earmarked for the crematorium.  

Guangdong authorities have not released any information about the protests, which were extended on Saturday by a few hundred residents despite officials suspending the building plan.

Witnesses said that dozens of citizens were injured and that many people were detained as confrontations unfurled. 

The videos showed protestors holding a sign reading: "If you don't want to be reviled for 10,000 generations, say 'no' bravely".

Another read: “Love our beautiful Wenlou town, say ‘no’ to crematorium."

One resident of Wenlou, which has a population of 60,000, told the South China Morning Post: “The [proposed crematorium site] is close to housing and the source of our drinking water. We’re afraid of pollution. We don’t want money or compensation; we just want the crematorium project scrapped.”

She said local officials “thought the town was poor and its people stupid”. Mentions of the protests were censored on Chinese social media and not reported in the country’s news outlets, which are strictly controlled by the (CCP). 

Eyewitnesses said that journalists were prevented from accessing the areas in which the skirmishes took place.