Authorities in a southern Chinese city have withdrawn plans to build a crematorium after days of protests by locals which prompted comparisons with the ongoing protest movement in Hong Kong.
Last week, residents in the town of Wenlou in Guangzhou Province clashed with riot police during protests against plans to build a large crematorium in an area officials had previously said would become an “ecological park.”
Footage shared on social media shows riot police apparently firing tear gas, and beating protesters with batons. Other videos show residents throwing firecrackers at police and flipping over a car.
— 自由亚洲电台 (@RFA_Chinese) November 29, 2019
Residents started protesting on Nov. 28 and continued over the weekend even after local authorities announced a suspension of the project on late Nov. 29. Demonstrations ceased after officials announced the withdrawal of the plan on Dec. 1.
On the afternoon of Nov. 30, local authorities released all the detained protesters and sent them back to the town, according to Hong Kong media Apple Daily. But some released protesters told the outlet that police told them they were released on the status of “bail pending trial,” and could be subject to legal proceedings.
While small-scale protests against chemical plants, crematoriums, and other industrial facilities are not uncommon across China’s rural areas, news of such events are heavily censored by the regime. The protest in Wenlou—located about 60 miles north of Hong Kong—came amid fears by Chinese authorities that pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong now approaching its sixth month would spillover into the mainland.
Footage shared on Twitter and other social media show Wenlou residents wearing masks and adopting slogans similar to those used by protesters in Hong Kong.
Protesters can be seen shouting, “Liberate Mao Ming [the city where Wenlou is located], the revolution of our times,” an adaptation of a popular slogan used by Hong Kong protesters: “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times!”
Like Hong Kong demonstrators, villagers also had “five demands” for local authorities. These included: stopping the crematorium project, investigating the police over its use the force in quelling the protests, releasing the detained protesters, and rehabilitating the construction site.
A local resident who declined to be named for fear of reprisals, told the Chinese-language edition Epoch Times that days before the protest officials from the Huazhou city government visited Wenlou and informed locals that an ecological park would be built in the town.
“At that time, our villagers were very supportive. A lot of senior villagers [whose lands would be occupied by the garden] signed the paper [allowing the project to go ahead],” the resident said.
However, on Nov. 27 Huazhou city government released a statement which said the project included a crematorium.
“We had fellow villagers who searched online and found out that the emissions from a crematorium is harmful to the environment,” the resident said.
On the morning of Nov. 28, locals planned to gather in front of the township government’s offices, but were faced with about one thousand riot police, according to the resident.
“We have never seen riot police in our town before,” the resident said. “They [the government] deployed thousands of riot police, as well as ambulances, drones, and riot vehicles [in the town on Nov. 28].”
The resident said that police controlled the roads inside the village, and blocked locals from going to the local government office.
“Only people who lived in the town center went to the township government office… There were about 100 people,” the resident said.
Before 11 a.m. local time, an elderly villager was beaten to the ground by the riot police, an incident recorded by villagers on-site and shared on WeChat, a popular Chinese social media similar to Facebook.
This police beating angered locals, who then stormed into the town government offices before being chased out by police, the resident said. Then both sides started throwing rocks at each other.
The resident said he witnessed two students and two senior villagers injured from the clashes. He also saw police detain a student, a woman, and an elderly man.
“They [police] mobilized more than one dozen riot trucks from Maoming City, and [we had] more and more villagers join [in the protest],” said the resident.
During the conflict, police fired tear gas and water cannons, he said.
When the protests escalated, villagers found that they couldn’t share videos and photos of the clashes online, and no Chinese media agreed to report the event, according to the resident.
“The crematorium’s pollution will harm our people,” he said.
The resident added that the Huazhou City government had previously planned on building a crematorium in another town, but failed after the villagers in that town protested intensely.
Cindy Zhan contributed to this article