Chinese protesters oppose petrochemical plant in Kunming

Protesters hold banners during a demonstration against plans for a factory to produce paraxylene (PX) in Kunming, China.

Today, hundreds of protesters shut down traffic in the Chinese city of Kunming to dramatize their opposition to a proposed petrochemical plant. It's the latest in a series of 'not in my backyard' or NIMBY protests in recent weeks throughout that country.

So why are we seeing more of these environmental protests now?

It could be a sign of growing consumer class in China. Decades ago, when China began to develop, there was an unspoken deal between China's government and it's people -- if you don't challenge our authority, we'll give you a better quality of life. For years, a better quality of life has meant the freedom to make money. But now that many Chinese have accomplished that, they're revisiting the quality of life clause in that deal and saying, we'd also like clean air and water, please.

Lately, when the government ignores these requests, people have been taking to the streets.

But the government isn't giving in so easily. Two weeks ago, officials in one Chinese city suddenly declared that a Saturday would be a work day and a school day for everyone to prevent a protest from happening. And that was in a city with a population of 14 million.

Protesters are making progress though. Today the Mayor of Kunming came out to talk to protesters and apologized for bad communication, telling them there would be a public hearing.

About the author

Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai.

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