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Daily Democracy

Ryan Blethen discusses the press, media and democracy. Daily Democracy is part of the Democracy Papers, a series of articles, essays and editorial opinion examining threats to our freedoms of speech and the press.

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January 26, 2008 12:28 PM

Shanghai protests

Posted by Ryan Blethen

I wrote in a recent column about the media in China, and the country's need for some personal freedoms. The Washington Post has a story today about Shanghai's middle class doing something rare; demonstrating. The protesters are speaking out against a maglev train that they fear will disrupt their neighborhoods.

When I was in Shanghai in September with a group of journalists we met with representatives of the 2010 World's Fair. I did not even know the world's fair was still going - have not heard of it since EXPO 86 in Vancouver, B.C. - but apparently it will be in Shanghai in two years.

The folks we met with were very excited about the 2010 fair being in their city. They explained to us how they moved nearly 200,000 people out of a neighborhood to build the fairgrounds. They assured us the former residents were much happier with their new accommodations than the slum from which they were removed.

One of the fair features they spoke of was the new maglev, which has motivated the demonstrations detailed in the Washington Post story. The story points out what is different about the Shanghai protests.

"The Communist Party has a massive security apparatus that closely monitors what it views as subversive activity. The party sometimes allows public protests if they serve its political interests, such as the ouster of corrupt officials.

"But the protests here have been unusual. They are led by homeowners and professionals - people who may not previously have had much to complain to the government about but whose awareness of their individual rights has grown along with their prosperity. Police, who have routinely put down rural protests by poor farmers, have found it more difficult to intimidate an affluent, educated crowd in a major city."

I am curious how these protests will play out. The middle class has more clout than the folks whose neighborhood was razed for the fair. It does not sound like the train will be derailed. That might not be the point, though. After the maglev is gliding through their neighborhoods will the middle class continue to speak out against projects and policies it views as detrimental?

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