China Daily year-end lists highlight the role of workers in 2009

As the year 2009 and this decade (the “aughts”?) comes to an end, various “best of” lists are floating around on the Internet, and the China Daily has compiled an interesting series of lists on its website. Besides being a year that saw many cultural and scholarly giants pass away, 2009 will probably also be remembered as a year in which workers and common netizens started to use proactive and exceptional means to defend their rights – a trend CLB noted in our report- the Workers' Movement in China (2007-2008). And 2009 will probably also be remember as a year in which various local governments had their credibility challenged like never before.

Of the year’s “Top 10 Saddest Stories”, three were directly about workers. There was the famous Zhang Haichao case− a man who elected to have surgery to prove that he indeed had pneumoconiosis, something the government denied. An employee at Foxconn committed suicide after being accused of stealing a sample iPhone and having been beaten by the company personnel. Chen Guojun, a manager at Jianlong Steel Holding Company, was beaten to death by workers at Tonghua who were angry over their company’s restructuring deal.

But besides these cases, there were other prominent incidents that seemed to indicate that class divisions are widening, and people are anxious to see more social justice. For example, also making the list was the tragic case of Tan Zhuo – a successful young man from Hunan living in Hangzhou – was run over and killed by a young, rich college student who was drag racing on public streets. The incident became even more prominent in the Chinese media after netizens found out that the police initially lied about how fast the car was going, in an apparent attempt to collude with the rich family of the racecar driver. The case seemed to epitomize the all-too cozy relationship between the rich and the government, and their disregard for regular people’s lives.

Other “saddest” stories of the year also revolved around poverty and callousness from official power, such as “poor student hangs herself in dorm”, and “man chops off finger to prove innocence”. One could also see this trend of citizens employing increasingly extreme forms of activism against powerful forces in the “Top 10 real estate debacles of 2009”.
Three workers made the list in the “Top 10 web celebrities of 2009”: a "bus beauty", a "cute sugarcoated haw" vendor, and a handsome traffic police officer.

Meanwhile the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences put out a white paper analyzing 77 high-profile mass incidents. They determined that the Internet and mobile phones played a crucial role in disseminating information in 23 of the cases, or roughly 30%. Therefore, as we see the rise of these popular internet incidents on almost a daily basis, and as China’s Internet population reached 338 million by 30 June 2009, perhaps it’s no wonder that the government is looking for new ways to control and censor the Internet.
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