On Sunday, residents in Maoming, Guangdong, province protested against the construction of a petrochemical plant that manufactures paraxylene. Paraxylene is a chemical essential to the process of manufacturing plastic bottles and polyester clothing that is dangerous if inhaled or absorbed through skin. Violence broke out with reports of several injured protesters.
Protests are very rare in China; it is actually illegal to protest there without a permit. The protests this week started spreading to Guanghou. In Maoming, hundreds of residents marched the streets this weekend; over 1,000 people turned out. Quickly clashes with the police broke out, with tear gas being fired at protesters. Photos and videos of the events were posted on Chinese social media showing injured protesters and police chasing demonstrators with batons and burning cars.
The government of Maoming is very eager to prioritize the city’s development. “To make Maoming a world-class chemical industrial base, the paraxylene projects should be actively and steadfastly promoted, so as to help develop our city and preserve our social stability,” reads a document that has been going around on social media asking students to support the plant.
State media have played down the protest, but accounts from eyewitnesses plus images and video circulating on social media paint a different picture. “Maoming people are very unhappy,” said Mr. Dong, a local resident who participated in the protest, according to BBC. “Maoming has always been a chemical industrial city. Sometimes walking on the streets, you can’t even escape from the awful smell discharged from the chemical plants.” Petrochemicals may be a boon to the economy, but at what cost? Just last month, a barge spilled over 900,000 gallons of oil into the Houston Ship Channel, one of the world’s busiest transit routes for petrochemicals, wreaking environmental havoc.