For China masses, an increasingly short fuse
By Joseph Kahn The New York Times
WANZHOU, China The encounter, at first, seemed purely pedestrian. A man carrying a bag passed a husband and wife on a sidewalk. The man's bag brushed the woman's pant leg, leaving a trace of mud. Words were exchanged. A scuffle ensued.
Easily forgettable, except that one of the men, Yu Jikui, was a lowly porter. The other, Hu Quanzong, boasted that he was a ranking government official. Hu beat Yu using the porter's own carrying stick, then threatened to have him killed.
For this Yangtze River port city, the script was incendiary. Onlookers spread word that a senior official had abused a helpless porter. By nightfall, tens of thousands of people had swarmed Wanzhou's central square, where they toppled official vehicles, pummeled police officers and torched City Hall.
Minor street quarrel provokes mass riot. China's Communist Party, obsessed with enforcing social stability, has few worse fears. Yet the Wanzhou uprising, which occurred on Oct. 18, is one of nearly a dozen major incidents of spontaneous social unrest in the past three months, many sparked by government corruption, police abuse and the unequal riches accruing to the powerful and well-connected.
"People can see how corrupt the government is while they barely have enough to eat," said Yu, reflecting on the uprising that made him an instant proletarian hero and later forced him into seclusion. "Our society has a short fuse, just waiting for a spark."