Measuring Chinese Discontent

What Local Level Unrest Tells Us

Workers on strike blocking the entrance gate of Hi-P International factory in Shanghai, China, December 2, 2011. Carlos Barria / Reuters

Since the violent repression of student protests in Tiananmen Square 27 years ago, the world has watched Chinese protests with fascination. Western media widely covered and analyzed the 2012 marches in China against Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute and the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong. But less attention has been paid to the protests that happen daily in mainland China, which are smaller but perhaps better indicators of the issues the Chinese people care about.

One reason for the oversight is that collecting data on small-scale gatherings is difficult because of media censorship. Studies of protests in China have relied on individual case studies and fragmented anecdotal evidence or on rough estimates and shaky statistical data. To get a more comprehensive look at protests in China, we looked at local-level protest data from the China Labour Bulletin and new data from the Google Database of Events, Language, and Tone;

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