- By Isaac Stone FishIsaac Stone Fish is FP's Asia editor. A Mandarin speaker, he lived in China for seven years before moving to Washington, D.C. His articles have also appeared in the New York Times, the Economist, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, and he has appeared as a commentator on MSNBC, the BBC, NPR, Al Jazeera, and PRI, among others.
Every year tens of thousands of mass protests break out in China. Some, like environmental protests that broke out in early July in the southwestern city of Shifang, feature tens of thousands of people, police brutality, and extensive coverage in the media, or at least on China’s microblogs.
Yet a "mass" incident can have as little as three or five people (there appears to be no agreed upon definition), and the majority are sparsely attended marches, peaceful mini-protests, disputed car accidents, or glorified street brawls, the kind of things a Chinese urban resident will walk by, gawk at for five minutes, and then keep moving.
What is rarer is a mass incident involving foreigners, and so I was tickled to see that my old Beijing apartment building — commonly known by its English name Just Make Plaza, likely a failed appropriation of the Nike slogan–was the site of its very own mass incident, when landlords and residents protesting on Monday that their electricity had been shut off. Global Times reported:
The protest started between 7 and 8 pm when landlords from the nearby Jiezuo Dasha apartment complex parked cars in the center of the street and put tables and chairs in the middle of the road. They held up a banner reading "Give us back our water and electricity, we want a normal life."
Foreigners tend to get better treatment from Chinese police, wary of provoking an international incident, and the dispute seems to mostly have resolved itself by now, but Global Times did report that "police were checking the identities of foreigners on the street."
For pictures of the dispute, here’s a story from City Weekend, a local expat magazine.