Social Unrest in China: A bird’s eye perspective

Studies on protests, demonstrations, strikes and other forms of social unrest in China overwhelmingly study the phenomenon from a micro perspective. Little is known about how protests in China are distributed temporally and spatially, which grievances they address, how many people they involve and how likely they are to meet with repression. Drawing on a dataset of 74.452 protests distributed all over China, this paper provides insights into to these issues. The results show that as a tendency, protests in China are widespread, staged by (migrant) workers, and occur in waves that peak at Chinese New Year, when migrants return home. Another noteworthy phenomenon is a steep increase in protests by home buyers, which now form the second largest category of social unrest in China. This means that protests by members of the middle class are on the rise, which has important implications for regime stability in China. The number of protests against land grabs and evictions has remained constant, yet such protests are less frequent than the literature on these issues suggests. Environmental protests are also few and far between. Most protests aim for financial compensation, but not for substantive rights, and involve less than 30 persons. Repression is especially likely where small, homogeneous groups of people are involved, examples in case being the victims of medical mistreatment or their family members, farmers, and hawkers.