Social Unrest in China

  • Lynette H. Ong
  • Christian Göbel


Social unrest is on the rise in China. Few incidents of public demonstrations, disruptive action or riots occurred in the 1980s, but the 1989 student protests in Tiananmen Square marked a turning point. In 1993, there were already 8,700 ‘mass incidents’ recorded. By 2005, the number had grown tenfold to 87,000. Unofficial data estimated by a researcher at Tsinghua University suggests that there were 180,000 incidents in 2010.1 These figures could easily be interpreted as signs that the days of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) rule are numbered. However, the number of media outlets has proliferated since the 1990s; and with that, the incentive to report on eye-catching stories has increased. In comparing these incidents with the protests that toppled several authoritarian regimes during the Arab Spring of 2011, a number of significant differences emerge. The scale of most protests in China is much smaller. Protestors are usually a homogenous group, such as peasants, taxi drivers, migrant workers or homeowners. Mobilisation across social groups, an important precondition for system-threatening collective action, is therefore largely absent. Further, despite rising unrest, the death toll in such activities remains low.


Local Government Migrant Worker Chinese Communist Party Local Official Public Security 
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© Lynette H. Ong and Christian Göbel 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lynette H. Ong
  • Christian Göbel

There are no affiliations available

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