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Kunming clash reveals society's woes

By Huang Xiangyang ( chinadaily.com.cn)
Updated: 2010-03-29 14:33
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The latest clash over the weekend between peddlers and city management officers in Kunming, Yunnan province, serves as another reminder of the depths of public anger at social injustice despite repeated pledges by the central government to build a harmonious society.

Like many of the so called mass events, it was caused by a seemingly insignificant event. This time the rumor had it that an old street vendor was beaten to death by city management officers, or chengguan. It was enough to set Kunming or the “city of spring” on fire.

Don’t blame the public for being fallible. For years chengguan has been famous, or infamous, for their rude and violent way of imposing order. But in a deeper sense, we have to admit that something has gone terribly wrong with our society.

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The list of public ire has been expanding in recent years, from rising housing prices to worsening pollution, from widening wealth gap to forced relocation in property development. A sense of dislocation permeates the vulnerable groups that include farmers, migrant workers as well as the laid-off and city poor, who have been excluded from enjoying the material prosperity that has come with the nation’s rapid economic growth. This, in addition to mismanagement and dysfunction of some local governments, could any time erupt into destructive force that destabilizes our society.

Sadly many of local officials have turned a blind eye toward the social woes and are only enthusiastic of working in pursuit of their career advancement.

For example, the local government in Kunming has, for the past year, been pushing ahead with a campaign to dismantle all metal anti-burglar cages outside apartment windows despite widespread public opposition. Their wish to build Kunming a city without any unsightly scenes is understandable, but the forceful way the officials have carried out this plan smacks of disrespect of people’s rights and random use of state power. Many say they should have made more efforts to improve the ecology of the Dianchi lake in the suburbs that remains foul-smelling despite of billions of yuan of input of tax payers’ money.

Premier Wen Jiabao has repeatedly said that government must work to “let people live with more dignity”. The latest event in Kunming reminds us there is still a long way to go before we could achieve that goal.