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Traditional means of exerting control and pressure on the public have lost their effectiveness in stabilizing society, the Party chief of Weng'an county has said.
Sha Xiangui, Party chief of Weng'an county in Southwest China's Guizhou province, was speaking to People's Daily about the lessons learned from the violent protests in the county in 2008, when the government was attacked by thousands of angry locals.
"The traditional means (of exerting control and pressure) neglect the appeals of the disadvantaged and ignore the power of social groups," Sha said to People's Daily.
"Failing to negotiate and coordinate will foment small issues into big ones, and make big issues explode."
Sha said the crux of the problem in 2008 was that the government had failed to improve people's livelihoods despite the county's remarkable economic development prior to the unrest. Statistics show that the county's gross domestic product nearly doubled in eight years to 2008.
"Developing the economy is a way (to address problems), but the object is to develop the society," Sha said.
About 30,000 people took part in the Weng'an protest on June 27, 2008, torching government buildings, police stations and cars, and injuring at least 150 people. The violence started with 300 people protesting against the contents of a police report on the death of a 17-year-old girl.
The police report stated that the girl had drowned, but the girls' family alleged that she had been raped and murdered by the relatives of local officials.
China Newsweek has reported that on June 21, 2008, police refused to remove the body of the girl, Li Shufen, from the river, claiming it was too dark to see. When Li's father, Li Xiuhua, asked police to inspect the scene at dawn, they told him they would go in the daylight.
Li Xiuhua then disagreed with the second autopsy report but said police warned him on June 27, 2008, that if he appealed to higher authorities in Beijing, he would be driven out of the city because the capital was preparing for the Olympic Games at the time.
The local government then decided to bury the girl's body the next day, despite objections from the family.
The control and pressure the police exerted over Li Xiuhua, and their negligence in retrieving Li Shufen's body, has been reported by the news media since then.
"The incident was the culmination of problems, including a drain in confidence in the government and rising tension between officials and the public," Sha said.
"We learned from the incident that the most fundamental and most effective way to stabilize society is to protect people's rights."
Yu Jianrong, a professor of rural development at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said previous cases have shown that a lack of confidence in government can trigger mass incidents.
Yu said the mass incident in Shishou in June 2009, when people protested after a 23-year-old chef fell to his death from the third floor of a building, was a result of the public's suspicion and dissatisfaction with the police autopsy results.
The mass incident in Menglian county, Yunnan province, in 2008 was triggered as police quelled a protest that had been sparked by lack of confidence in the government.
Yu suggested that political reform, power supervision and other measures can improve the public's confidence in government.
Wang Xixin, a law professor at Peking University, said the government should prioritize upholding people's livelihood, rights, and democracy as key targets of its economic and social management.
Weng'an county head Sha said the government has taken measures over the past four years to improve education, provide better insurance for rural people, create jobs and build affordable houses.
Two surveys conducted by National Bureau of Statistics showed 93.46 percent and 94.63 percent of local people are satisfied with Weng'an officials' work after the incident.