Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page


For China's leaders, worried about social stability as the restructuring of state-owned enterprises accelerated and unemployment rose, March 2002 marked a turning point. It was the first time so many well-organized, laid-off workers and their sympathizers-in the tens of thousands-took to the streets simultaneously and sustained their protests for weeks rather than days. Three cities in China's northeast, all characterized by high unemployment, conspicuous wealth, hopeless poverty, and what was widely believed to be endemic corruption, witnessed the most prolonged demonstrations. There, workers protested non-payment of back wages and pensions, loss of benefits, inadequate severance pay, employers' machinations to bypass worker congresses and to ignore prior agreements, unfilled government promises to help the unemployed find jobs, and later, the arrests of their leaders.

For several years before the eruption in the northeast, local authorities throughout urban China had quelled labor demonstrations by paying off protesters or employing limited amounts of force.58 However, in 2002, in Liaoyang, in central Liaoning province, Fushun in the east, and Daqing in western Heilongjiang province, officials were unprepared for the scale of the protests, the degree of organization, and the careful planning. In Liaoyang, workers from some twenty factories found common cause; in Daqing, an independent labor organization issued and took the lead in circulating handbills and posters; and in Fushun miners managed to secretly organize their demonstrations before taking to the streets.

Liaoyang, Liaoning Province

Liaoyang, with its 1.8 million residents, is in many ways a typical northeastern Chinese industrial city. It flourished for some thirty years, as did the whole resource-rich region, after China's leaders ordered heavy investment in the area to facilitate quick industrial growth. During the 1970s, the Liaoyang Spinning Factory employed up to 120,000 workers; by 2002, only 500 remained.59 The Liaoyang Ferroalloy Company, the enterprise whose bankruptcy led to the March 2002 protests, employed an estimated 12,000 men and women at its height in jobs ranging from iron casting to administration.60 When the company declared bankruptcy on November 5, 2001, about 6,000 remained on the payroll, including laid-off (xia gang), retired, and injured workers.61 Unemployment in the city stood at 25 percent at the end of 2001; workers as young as forty could not find jobs;62 and Liaoyang residents estimated that 80 percent of the city's workforce struggled to get by on day jobs in the informal sector.63 According to official figures for 2001, 80,329 workers were "not at their post," i.e. laid-off (xia gang); 216,892 were "at their post."64 The numbers yield a laid-off (xia gang) rate of 27 percent.65 The official registered unemployment rate, however, was only 3.4 percent.66

A former furnace factory technician's story is typical. He once made Rmb (renminbi) 1,200 a month (approximately U.S.$150; U.S.$1 = Rmb 8.3), but is now repairing shoes on the street. The best job offer he has had since he was laid-off (xia gang) came from a private employer, who offered Rmb 300 and no benefits.67

The Liaoyang Ferroalloy Factory: Background to the March 2002 protests

The demonstrations on March 11 and 12, 2002 exposed long-festering problems between the workers and management of Ferroalloy, once a medium- to large-scale SOE whose products sold well in both international and domestic markets. The plant's former workers trace its terminal decline to alliances between Gong Shangwu, first Liaoyang Party Secretary and later mayor and Liaoyang People's Congress chairperson, and corrupt managers at Ferroalloy who, they say, conspired to close the factory for their own personal gain.68 The accusations were supported by an official legal case against six senior figures connected with the plant, one of whom was convicted on corruption charges. As reported in the official Liaoyang Daily, over Rmb 5.3 million in embezzled funds, assets, and bribes has been recovered; and authorities have claimed they are chasing another Rmb 2.9 million.69

The plant started to lose money in 1995 but, according to an open letter from irate workers to the governor of the province, management continued to issue false reports indicating net profits to justify awarding themselves large bonuses.70 As of 1995, the company stopped paying employees' pension and medical insurance premiums.71 From 1996 on, production was periodically suspended.72

Beginning in mid-1998, workers petitioned and wrote letters to the Communist Party Central Committee, the Party's Central Disciplinary Committee, the State Council's General Office and Complaints Office, the courts, the Liaoyang procuracy, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security at the city, provincial, and national levels.73 Led by Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang, a small group of workers sought to bring official attention to their allegations of corruption, as well as to non-payment of wages, forced early retirement--often dubbed "false retirement" by workers--cutbacks in severance payments and retirement benefits, and other downsizing measures.74

According to the open letter:

Older `falsely retired' and laid-off (xia gang) workers (jia tui zhi he xia gang lao gongren) were supposed to have been paid a stipend of Rmb 182 per month but it was unclear how long this was to have been paid (point 12); workers unemployed due to the bankruptcy (yin pochan er shiye) were not receiving social insurance guarantees or the minimum livelihood allowance (zui di shenghuo fei) that the government is legally obliged to issue to urban residents whose incomes fall below a certain level (point 13); workers who had been promised compensation and relocation payments (yi ci xing buchang fei anzhi fei) still have not been paid in full (point 15); women workers of forty-five and over and male workers of fifty-five and over still have no formal copies of retirement arrangements offered by the company (point 16); housing subsidies have not been paid (point 17); medical reimbursements still have not been issued (point 18); workers laid off (xia gang) on a monthly stipend of Rmb 104 or put on long-term leave (fang changjia) on a monthly stipend of Rmb 140 prior to bankruptcy were still owed money.75

In addition, wages were not being paid. By March 2002, some former lower level managers and machine operators were owed two years' wages, and former senior workers and technicians were owed seven months' wages, despite a pledge from the city government to cover at least 50 percent of unpaid wages by the end of 2001.76

Although the CCP Disciplinary Committee, in response to the workers' petitions, wrote to the Liaoyang government instructing it to investigate the workers' allegations, the group of workers involved was disappointed with the CCP committee response, which they characterized as a brush-off.77

In May 2000, several incidents--including arrests of workers' leaders--polarized the situation further. On May 15, in their first reported public protest against unpaid wages, approximately 600 Ferroalloy workers blocked Zhenxing Road, the main highway between Liaoyang and the provincial capital Shenyang.78 According to one report, some workers had not been paid for as long as two years, pensions had been stopped, and laid-off (xia gang) employees were not receiving statutory livelihood stipends.79

In the early morning hours of May 16, protesters moved back to the factory grounds. According to one report, by then their number had reached 5,000.80 Some 500 police and 200 members of the paramilitary People's Armed Police (PAP) broke up the gathering, beating workers with truncheons and injuring as many as fifty.81 Three worker representatives were detained: Pang Qingxiang, Xiao Yunliang, and Li Run.82 For Pang and Xiao it was to be the first in a series of detentions eventually culminating in their formal arrests on March 21, 2002.

By 8:00 a.m., up to 1,000 workers had regrouped and were attempting a march to government buildings, carrying banners saying, "Release the worker representatives" and "Being owed money is not a crime." Police blocked their progress, but the demonstration convinced authorities to release two of the three detained representatives that same evening. Xiao told reporters that Li had suffered a heart attack and had been hospitalized. Xiao also indicated that some form of negotiation took place with the authorities, but he gave no details. "I will only say this, we must be paid our back pay, and we do not fear the government taking revenge against us after things are settled."83

During the following twelve months, worker representatives and government officials met occasionally. Each time, government officials promised to address workers' concerns.84

Then, on May 17, 2001, mirroring a scenario that occurred frequently at SOEs elsewhere in China, some fifty unidentified men in at least a dozen trucks arrived at the Ferroalloy factory in the middle of the night to remove equipment.85 Workers claimed the men were members of a local organized criminal gang (generically called heishehui or triads). Under the direction of officials from a Liaoyang court, the men transferred raw materials, including 6,000 tons of iron ore, from the factory into the trucks.86 In all probability, a legal court order permitting removal of the plant's assets existed. However, the workers argued that the timing of the removal was in violation of the Bankruptcy Law which states that all financial matters must be cleared by the "liquidation committee" (pochan qingsuan xiaozu) before any assets may be removed.87

Security officials at the factory immediately telephoned Yao Fuxin, one of the main worker leaders, who rushed to the site with eight other workers. Outnumbered, they failed to stop the apparent theft. Five days after the incident, between 1,000 and 3,000 workers rallied to demand an explanation.88 Security personnel stood by but did not interfere with the demonstrators. The Liaoyang government promised worker representatives that they would investigate the incident and provide an explanation within seven days. According to the open letters issued by the workers in early March 2002, nothing came of the promise.89

On October 19, 2001, Ferroalloy's management convened a meeting of Ferroalloy's staff and workers congress to vote on the issue of planned bankruptcy. Although Chinese law prohibits independent trade unions, it does allow site-specific representatives congresses in SOEs. According to the 1992 Trade Union Law in effect at the time of the meeting, the workers congress "is the basic form of enterprise democratic management."90 In theory, the congress, whose elected members represented the factory's workers, had the right to monitor and discuss major management decisions.

The Liaoyang government and Ferroalloy management made it clear that no opposition to the bankruptcy would be permitted. On the day of the meeting, riot police in dozens of vans and cars were deployed near the factory gates; police cars and plainclothes officers on foot cruised local neighborhoods monitoring activists. In an apparent effort to prevent a majority vote against bankruptcy, management and trade union officials split the worker representatives at the meeting into thirteen groups.91 Two plainclothes police officers supervised each group, reportedly destroying any opposition votes. In the circumstances, many worker representatives walked out without voting.92 The bankruptcy decision "passed."

On October 18, the day before the congress, 1,000 workers blocked the expressway between Liaoyang and Shenyang to protest the bankruptcy plan. According to one report, four organizers were detained.93 Although police and company officials declined to comment, a spokeswoman for the Baita district Public Security Bureau later said the arrests were part of police efforts to monitor a workers' meeting at the factory, unwittingly lending support to reports of a heavy police presence there.94

Five days later, Yao Fuxin was detained for several hours.95

Less than three weeks later, on November 5, 2001, the Liaoyang Ferroalloy Factory was formally declared bankrupt. According to government officials and worker representatives, although negotiations over future arrangements for the plant's workers did continue, by March 2002 it was clear they had stalled. The government claimed it had met with worker representatives five times;96 workers claimed the government had been negotiating in bad faith.97

March-May, 2002

On March 3, 2002, another meeting, one that Ferroalloy workers referred to as a "bankruptcy discussion and vote meeting" (pocha taolun toupiao hui) took place.98 Human Rights Watch was unable to determine whether it was another formal meeting of the staff and workers congress or a separate meeting called by company leaders or government officials. So as to minimize open opposition to a second vote on the bankruptcy, local authorities adopted the same intimidation tactics they had used in October 2001. Police detained three worker representatives and, according to an open letter from Ferroalloy workers, it was only "due to the masses and family members barring the way" that five more worker representatives escaped detention.99 An open letter to Governor Bo Xi from the "Unemployed Workers of the Bankrupt Liaoyang Ferroalloy Plant" stated that police were deployed at the factory gates and the atmosphere was so tense that anyone who planned to vote against the bankruptcy was "scared by the moan of the wind and the cry of the cranes, seeing the enemy in every bush."100 In this way, stated the letter, the "life of a large-scale enterprise was forced to its conclusion."101 It is unclear which representatives were held for how long or how they were treated.

During the first week of March 2002, Ferroalloy employees issued a total of four open letters, all in the name of the "Unemployed Workers of the Bankrupt Liaoyang Ferroalloy Plant." These were posted on the factory's gates and on the walls in the surrounding neighborhood. Three were issued on March 5: one, as mentioned, was addressed to the Liaoning governor, Bo Xi; another to President Jiang Zemin; and the third to all ex-employees at the plant. The fourth, issued on March 4, was addressed to the Liaoyang Party Committee and government leaders, the "liquidation team" (pochan qingsuan xiaozu), factory cadres, and workers and their families. That letter accused government officials and company management of colluding in corruption, questioned the need for closing the factory, and, quoting applicable laws and regulations, argued that the liquidation process had been illegal.

Both the `Enterprise Law' and the `Bankruptcy Law' clearly state that an enterprise shall clear its accounts prior to liquidation. Moreover, the Liaoyang Party Committee, the city government and other leaders...have ignored the `Constitution of the People's Republic of China', the `Trade Union Law' and other relevant laws by disregarding the fierce opposition of the factory's workers and also the vast majority of middle and basic level cadres...What are your aims? Explain them clearly to the mass of workers.102

The letter went on to accuse former Liaoning governor Zhang Guoguang (since transferred to the governorship of Hubei province) of manipulating the bankruptcy process. And it demanded information on when unpaid wages, pensions, and medical reimbursements would be paid.103

On March 11, Gong Shangwu, chair of the city's People's Congress and leader of Liaoyang's delegation to the National People's Congress--then in session in Beijing--told a local television reporter that "there were no unemployed in Liaoyang" and that the city's economic transition had encountered no serious problems.104

In response, on March 11-12 some 17,000 mainly laid-off (xia gang) workers took to the streets of Liaoyang in protest. Some 15,000 workers from the piston, instruments, leather and precision tool factories joined 2,000 Ferroalloy workers in a show of strength and mutual support.105 As key worker representative Xiao Yunliang told Radio Free Asia, the demonstration marked a deliberate "change in tactics."106 Placards called for Gong's resignation and the liberation of Liaoyang; speeches charged that the local government had stood by while industrial managers and corrupt officials had permitted embezzlement and consequent terrible hardships for workers at the former SOEs. Workers claimed that Ferroalloy general manager Fan Yicheng, with the approval of Gong and other government officials, used public funds to set up at least three independent companies.107

As protests continued on March 12, twelve local government leaders, including the deputy secretary of the Liaoyang Communist Party Committee, two deputy mayors, the secretary of the Liaoyang Political and Legal Committee, the city's chief judge, chief prosecutor, and chief of public security, met with thirteen worker representatives to assure them of official concern and of the government's intention to work toward solutions. One worker representative surnamed Pang told workers: "They said they are taking the problems the workers have put forward extremely seriously and solicitously. They are considering ways of solving [them] and working to calm [the situation]."108

Pang went on to say that the government was willing to consider the issues of corruption, bankruptcies, unemployment, and past arrests. Judging from the workers' words, the issue of arrests was especially important. They were still angry about previous detentions and about the fact that not one factory manager had been detained on suspicion of corruption.

The officials bought time by arguing they had to wait for the secretary of the Communist Party Committee to return from a trip before resuming talks. But the Public Security Bureau chief did guarantee that workers could safely return to their homes; no one would be arrested. Taking officials at their word, workers called off the protests.

For four days all was quiet. Then, on March 17 around 8:00 a.m., Yao Fuxin left home alone to buy tobacco. He was still in view when his daughter saw two men in civilian clothes bundle him into a car. A policeman on duty at the station house, when asked about the incident, said he knew nothing about it.109 Questioned by the media as to whether those responsible were police officers, Yao's daughter replied:

[I]f they were, they should have phoned to tell us they had detained him. That's the correct procedure isn't it? But we still haven't heard any news and this happened nearly two days ago. We don't know anything.110

On March 18 workers turned out in force to protest Yao's apparent arrest. According to participants, some 4,000 former Ferroalloy workers were joined by as many as 30,000 supporters from some twenty other Liaoyang factories in a march down Democracy Road to local government headquarters to demand Yao's release and to express outrage at the government's broken promise.111

According to participants and local taxi drivers, some 10,000 took part in the following day's demonstration. Pang, in speaking with reporters, claimed the turnout would have been much larger if the police had not set up roadblocks. He went on to say, "[We] also asked for talks with the Party and the mayor, but they refused to meet us." By the afternoon, after most of the protesters had left, bystanders saw some 250 former Ferroalloy workers leaving the government compound carrying banners. At least one read, "we have a government of hooligans."112

By March 20, police and paramilitary troops had sealed off streets leading to Democracy Road. The show of force, combined with bad weather, reduced the marchers to less than one-fifteenth their former number. Some 2,000--many of them elderly and retired, as organizers thought they were less likely to be arrested--did gather in front of government offices; worker representatives planned to go inside to try to negotiate Yao's release. His daughter described the morning scene:

Today, they deployed the People's Armed Police (PAP) and senior Public Security Bureau police officers [ganjing, also known as "cadre police"]. They were all out there. There were three truckloads of PAP troops right outside the gates to the city government offices. They pushed us [out of the building's courtyard] into the rain and we all were drenched. Seventy- and eighty-year-old women drenched in the rain! The guys wearing steel helmets were the anti-riot police.113

One worker representative, Gu Baoshu, was able to get past the paramilitary troops and into the government building, only to be detained by security forces. When a woman in the crowd realized what had happened and alerted others, some one hundred workers forced their way into the room where public security officials were holding Gu and secured his release. A month later police officers took their revenge. (See below.)

By midday on March 20, the workers had started home. About thirty older retired workers, under the impression that security forces would not attack them, agreed to protect worker representatives who were also returning home. Not far from the government offices, a combined group of police and PAP officers rushed the workers and seized three representatives, Pang Qingxiang and Xiao Yunliang, both in their fifties; and thirty-nine year-old Wang Zhaoming. The incident brought the number of detained worker representatives to four.

Workers now felt even more strongly that only older, retired workers would be safe in representing them; and some 1,000 appeared at government offices the next day, March 21, to demand the release of the four detainees. As Yao Fuxin's daughter described the scene: "Today, there was an older Ferroalloy worker in a wheelchair who came out...Two older women pushed his wheelchair and he represented us."114 Despite the precautions, two more workers were detained, including Pang Qingxiang's wife Guo Suxiang and an unidentified worker who objected to Guo's detention.115

Later on March 21, officers of the Baita district Public Security Bureau notified Yao's family that he was, in fact, in their custody.116 That night, in what apparently was an attempt to persuade workers to call off the protests, Yao was permitted to telephone his wife from the Tieling city police lockup, some one hundred kilometers from Liaoyang. She in turn visited workers to urge restraint.

Yao was reticent to talk about his own condition despite inquiries from his wife. She later recalled the conversation:

When he rang, someone else came on the line first and said, "Are you a relative of Yao Fuxin?" I said "yes." Then he said, "Well he would like to have a few words with you." That was it. Then he let Yao Fuxin persuade me to talk to everyone and ask them to call off the demonstrations. After Yao finished I asked him, "Are you ok?" He said he was and that he had already talked to [the head of Liaoyang's PSB]. I asked what he had said. Yao said, "Nothing much." That's what Yao said. He didn't give any precise day when people would be released. The main thing he talked about was that people should stay off the streets and stop demanding that the government release people; people need to calm down as he has already talked with [Liaoyang's PSB head]. I said, "So what did he say about you and the others [detainees]?" He said, "It's nothing; nothing to worry about. That's about it really."117

Also on March 21, the four detained leaders--Yao, Pang, Wang, and Xiao--received formal notices of their arrests; the men were charged with "illegal demonstration," that is, with responsibility for organizing the protests. The notice was based on allegations that the workers violated the "PRC Law on Assemblies, Parades and Demonstration" which requires advanced police permission for demonstrations.118

In the Ferroalloy case, the state-controlled Liaoyang Daily described "putting up posters in public places and making links [cooperation among workers from different factories]" to be evidence of criminal activity--a not-so-oblique justification for any arrests the police might make.119 The fact that workers from other plants had joined the Ferroalloy workers for some protests suggested a degree of planning. As one taxi driver said in commenting on the participation of textile, machinery, paper and other workers, "[T]hey had all linked up and organized."120

By March 25, positions on both sides had hardened, with workers accusing the government of reneging on promises to help them find work, suggesting instead they leave the area;121 and city officials suggesting that outside agitators--hostile labor groups from Hong Kong and foreign "black hands," including foreign media--were fanning the unrest.122 In a statement read on Liaoyang's state-run television, the city government said the detained workers had broken the law and would be dealt with accordingly.123 On March 27, plainclothes police searched the homes of two worker representatives for "documents and contact books."124 It was reported that public security officers had threatened that detained leaders would face stiffer charges, and that even more workers would be detained if the protests continued.125

Reports circulated, at the same time, that Ferroalloy workers had received half their back wages and part of their severance pay, and that the city government was contributing Rmb 2.6 million (U.S.$325,000) of the necessary funds.126 Within a week, it became clear that the city would not release the worker representatives as it had hinted; and on March 30, the Liaoyang procuracy handed down indictments against the four detained leaders on charges of "illegal assembly, marches and protests." In short, a previously tested government strategy--limited cash payments in lieu of wages, payment of welfare arrears to rank and file protesters, and severe penalties for organizers--was put in effect in Liaoyang.

In late March, after rumors surfaced that Yao had suffered a heart attack, relatives of the detained men appealed to city officials to free the men. According to one relative:

I cried and I knelt down in front of the government, but nobody talked to us...I was also trying to explain that we wanted no trouble, just the release of our loved ones. I was halfway through when some officials tried to haul us away.127

Several elderly women present argued with the officials, giving the relatives a chance to leave safely.

Within the week, it became clear that central authorities, likely concerned over the endurance and solidarity displayed by the workers, had ordered a crackdown. They informed local officials that it was their responsibility to isolate workers from their counterparts in other provinces and industries and from foreign backers.128 To back up the directive, the Chinese press was prohibited from reporting the protest story.129

The government's use of force and the charges against the protest leadership effectively stopped the demonstrations for a while, but the situation was far from calm. On April 11, Yao Fuxin's wife was permitted to see him in detention and reported that, although her husband could speak clearly, the right side of his body was numb and he was suffering from migraines. She also reported that Yao told her he had been kept in leg irons for the first four days of his detention.130 With the exception of that visit, at this writing, there are no confirmed reports that detainees' relatives have been able to visit them or verify their condition during the more than four months they have been held. (Typically, families do not have access to criminal detainees until both trial and appeal are over and the prisoner is transferred from detention to a prison or labor camp.)

On April 16, police officers entered Gu Baoshu's home, ripped out the telephone line, bound, gagged, and beat him, then took him away. He was released, in a dazed condition, some eight hours later, but required hospitalization for chest pains and blood clots in his eyes.131

On April 22, Ferroalloy workers applied to hold a demonstration demanding the release of their jailed representatives but were denied permission. According to Guo Xiujing, Yao Fuxin's wife, "[The police] wanted to know the name of the organizer, but it goes without saying that anybody whose name appeared [on the permit application] would be arrested."132 A second application on April 29 and a third on May 8 were also denied.133

A protest on May 1, the Labor Day holiday, ended without incident but with no concessions from local officials. On May 7, at the start of a three-day protest rally in front of government offices, the City Complaints Bureau told workers that officials were willing to meet with worker representatives. Fearful of detention, the workers refused but handed over a petition with five major demands. The petition urged officials to: 1) immediately and unconditionally release the four detainees or else try them quickly; 2) make arrangements for Ferroalloy workers to visit with their jailed representatives; 3) investigate and issue a public report on forced bankruptcies; 4) increase government efforts to clamp down on corrupt officials: and 5) punish officers responsible for beating Gu Baoshu.134 Violence erupted on May 15, when some dozen plainclothes police charged into a crowd of protesters, kicking and punching indiscriminately in an effort to seize the workers' banners. After an elderly woman was beaten and her son remonstrated with the police, he, too, was beaten and dragged away. The Complaints Bureau arranged for his same-day release.135

Legal issues

Freedom to demonstrate is guaranteed in Article 35 of the Chinese constitution. However, the provisions of the PRC Law on Assemblies, Procession and Demonstration and the law's implementing regulations make it almost impossible to hold protest demonstrations if the relevant authorities object.136

The assembly and procession law contravenes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China signed in 1998. Article 21 of the ICCPR provides that no restrictions may be placed on the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly "other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedom of others."137 Any restrictions on the right to assembly must be absolutely necessary to attain a valid state purpose and must correspond to a minimum democratic standard.138

Applications to demonstrate are decided on by the Public Security Bureau and can be denied if what is proposed is deemed to "infringe upon the interests of the state, society and collectives," or would "endanger national unification, sovereignty or territorial integrity...or there is ample evidence to prove that the assembly, parade or demonstration will directly jeopardize public security or severely undermine public order."139 Such a broad and loosely worded regulation gives local authorities extraordinary discretion and invites arbitrary and politically motivated denials. In addition, an application to demonstrate cannot be considered if "the placards and slogans to be used...and the names, occupations and addresses of the sponsors" are not included.140 Sponsors have three days within which to "request a re-examination" of a rejection; the authorities have three days to respond.141

Demonstrating after failing to obtain permission carries a possible prison term; thus, the four accused leaders of the Liaoyang protests face up to five years in prison under Article 296 of the Criminal Law on charges of responsibility for "illegal assembly, marches and protests."142

Workers, with precedent to draw on, had no reason to believe an application to demonstrate would be dealt with in good faith. During December 1997-January 1998, workers from Beijing's 3501 Factory embarked on a campaign against the introduction of limited one-year contracts subject to annual renewal. Management retaliated by dismissing those who refused to sign. After negotiations failed, workers applied to demonstrate. Two police districts denied the request, stating, "There are sufficient grounds to maintain that a parade or demonstration will endanger public security [sufficient] to seriously endanger social order."143 As mentioned, in April and May 2002 police turned down three applications to demonstrate submitted by Liaoyang workers. The Liaoyang Public Security Bureau's refusal to issue a permit did not meet the applicable conditions.

Human Rights Watch has serious concerns about the Liaoyang detainees' access to due process, given the harshness of the law, the inadequacy of protections offered at trial, and the difficulties the defendants face in obtaining independent, qualified counsel. For example, the families of the four detainees, Yao Fuxin, Pang Qingxiang, Xiao Yunliang, and Wang Zhaoming, spent April and May trying to find lawyers willing to represent the men. Only Xiao Yunliang's family had succeeded as of this writing, and, when Xiao's lawyer tried to meet with him in early April, the Public Security Bureau refused him permission, claiming that Xiao had refused to hire him.144

Daqing, Heilongjiang Province

During the 1960s and 1970s, Daqing became renowned throughout China as the model for rapid oil field development. Even now, thirty-two years after his death in 1970, it is difficult to find an urban resident in China who is not familiar with the personification of that model, Wang Jinxi, better known as Iron Man Wang. Wang's reputed selflessness, his patriotism, and willingness to work long hours in terrible conditions to support the nation's development were frequently lauded in nationwide "emulation" campaigns.145

Ironically, it is protesting workers in Daqing, most in their forties, fifties, and sixties, who invoke Wang's spirit and determination. One flier handed out in the city's Iron Man Square on March 25, 2002 called on protesters to "follow the Iron Man's example. It is better to die twenty years early and struggle with all one's might to the end...."146

Oil was discovered in the Daqing area in 1958 at the beginning of the Great Leap Forward (GLF), an ultimately disastrous campaign aimed at forcing the pace of China's modernization so as to "catch up and surpass Britain in the output of major industrial goods" within three years.147 The result was a near collapse of industry, a dramatic decline in agricultural production, and at least thirty million people dead from starvation.148

The fledgling oil industry in Daqing was one bright spot in a nearly bankrupt economy, at the time 90 percent dependent on imported oil.149 In 1960, to speed Daqing's development, Mao approved the transfer of 30,000 demobilized troops to join workers already there;150 by June 1, the first barrels of oil left Daqing; and by 1963 the regime declared dependence on foreign oil over.151 During the next four decades, Daqing, with over 26,000 wells, became one of the largest oil fields in the world.152 By 1976, oil production had reached fifty million metric tons, an annual output that was sustained until the late 1990s.153

According to the State Statistics Bureau, in 2000, urban residents' per capita disposable income was almost twice the national average;154 average wages were in the top ten for cities nationwide.155 But restructuring, the drying up of some wells, and lower international oil prices slowed production and led to serious unemployment. Further cuts are planned, tens of thousands of workers in 2002 alone, to allow PetroChina, owner of most of Daqing's oil fields, to fulfill its obligations to shareholders in the face of increased competition and pressure to improve productivity following WTO entry.156

Background to the March-April protests

The wave of daily workers' protest demonstrations that began on March 1, 2002, emerged from over five years of major restructuring in the oil industry and the gradual decline of Daqing as China's most important oil center. Oil imports steadily increased through the 1990s; by 2001, 30 percent of China's oil was imported.157 In 1998, to enhance China's position in the international oil market, its oil fields were assigned to one of two vertically integrated state-owned corporations, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and the China Petrochemical Corporation (Sinopec). CNPC absorbed the Daqing oil field. 158 In early 2000, CNPC went a step further. As part of plans to list on the Hong Kong and New York stock exchanges, CNPC transferred most of its high quality domestic assets into a subsidiary named PetroChina which became the parent company of the Daqing Oil Company Ltd (DOCL), the former Daqing Petroleum Administration Bureau (DPAB).159 The initial public offering (IPO) of PetroChina went ahead in April 2000.

Although the Daqing field still accounts for 30 percent of China's crude oil production, output continues to be down and DOCL faces an uphill struggle to regain profitability.160 Senior figures in the DOCL management believe the effort is going forward on a less than level playing field. Referring to PetroChina separating out its most profitable assets for the IPO, Zeng Yukang, head of Daqing Oil and the target of oil workers' wrath, told the People's Daily just before protests started in March, "[A]nyone left in the remaining subsidiary companies would scream injustice."161

Aging wells, high production costs, and a drop in the international price of crude oil were cited by Daqing Mayor Wang Zhibin as causes of the production cutback.162 During the protests, he went on to say that Daqing's traditional economy was in trouble and making "all-out efforts to restructure is the only option we have."163

Estimates for the number of Daqing workers laid off since Daqing Oil began restructuring vary considerably, from 38,000 by January 2001,164 to "86,000 of the company's 260,000 employees [in] recent years."165 A Daqing resident told a Human Rights Watch researcher that over 50,000 had signed severance contracts in "late 2000."166 A PetroChina official put the figure at 58,000.167 A leaflet distributed among former oil workers on March 25, 2002, was addressed to "80,000 fellow retrenched workers."168 One account put the total number of oil workers at 300,000 (plus nearly 800,000 dependents) out of a population of two million.169 The report went on to say that there were few jobs outside the oil industry.170

On November 7-8, 2000, Daqing Oil issued two documents that outlined the severance agreement the company was offering some 80,000 of its laid-off employees, more than one-quarter of the city's oil workers.171 According to a workers' handbill issued two years later and sent to the Heilongjiang provincial government, the agreement was forced on them.172 According to the Daqing government, Daqing Oil, and PetroChina, all the laid-off workers voluntarily signed the severance contracts; and all three insisted the process was entirely legal.

After a March 25, 2002, meeting with what authorities claimed were representatives of an organization called "workers compensated for contract termination," the leader of a State Council Investigation Team that had been sent to Daqing to look into the dispute, made the same points in a speech broadcast over loudspeaker in Iron Man Square. He asked pointedly, "Why are people complaining now?"173

Laid-off workers told a different story. In a leaflet criticizing the process, they charged that there had been no consultation with the company's workers congress:

Surely such decisions that are not discussed by the staff and workers congress, but simply announced and implemented, violate the Enterprise Law and the Trade Union Law. Why didn't the Daqing Petroleum Administration Bureau trade union protect the rights of the workers? So much for the DPAB's stressing of "legality."174

Although Daqing Oil did not make full details of the severance payments public, it reportedly offered workers relatively large sums of money for years of accumulated service.175 Accounts vary, but the compensation ceiling was on the order of Rmb 100,000 (U.S.$12,500).176 But it was not the amount of money, per se, that angered workers. Rather, their grievances related to ongoing suspicions that management had not informed them of relevant information before the agreement was finalized, and resentment of the unilateral changes made to it since. The banners of protesting workers expressed their outrage: "We don't want to be tricked again!" "Give me my job back!"177

Workers had been offered the severance package with no alternative, they say, and then the terms had been changed. As one laid-off employee, who had opened a shop with her severance money and did not plead poverty, recalled the situation:

When the company made the offer they made it clear we had no choice; they had to reduce the workforce or the company was finished. Take the money now or you'll get nothing later on, was the message. So everyone took it, because they [the company] said when we reached retirement age we would get the same treatment as the workers kept on. Now they've changed it. They lied.178

She was referring to increases of 46 percent in pension premiums and medical insurance between the time the agreement was signed in November 2000 and early 2002.179 Daqing Oil also unilaterally reneged on other aspects of its severance agreement with the workers, including eliminating heating subsidies of Rmb 3,000 (about U.S.$375) a year.180

Corruption was a factor in Daqing, as in Liaoyang. In May 1997, the listing of the Lianyi Petrochemical Company, a Daqing-based enterprise, on the Shanghai stock exchange engendered a major scandal.181 According to an official with the China Securities Regulatory Commission "The majority of the certification it submitted...was false, including its business license."182 In contrast with Liaoyang, in this case thirty-nine officials were punished for illegal activities. But the accusations of unilateral and illegal behavior leveled at Daqing Oil's management did not move the government to investigate or intervene.

March and April, 2002

The changes to pension and insurance premiums came on top of other losses that put many former employees on the verge of poverty. Many ex-oil workers had seen their compensation money disappear after they followed government advice and opened small businesses which quickly failed.183 The final straw came on February 12, 2002 when Daqing Oil, despite former promises, announced that it would no longer pay heating allowances. Within three weeks, on March 1, some 3,000 former oil workers marched on Daqing Oil headquarters under the banner of an independent labor organization, the Daqing Petroleum Administration Bureau Retrenched Workers' Provisional Union Committee (DRWPU).184 Few leaflets were issued in the committee's name but by March 4, its organizing efforts rallied over 50,000 workers in protest.185

Deliberately elusive, the core organizers seem to have been a small group. One demonstration participant told Radio Free Asia: "There were maybe four or five people. They all seemed pretty clued up and well-educated, able to write well and speak articulately, and they understood the law as well."186

Although they became increasingly intermittent, demonstrations persisted through March and into April and May. A group of some 1,000 protesting workers spearheaded the gatherings in Iron Man Square, with the number swelling regularly to between 7,000 and 8,000 despite police roadblocks. By mid-March, the demonstrations were being monitored each day by some 800 PAP troops; and at least twelve truckloads of soldiers were out of sight but available at a moment's notice. By that time, too, fear of copycat protests led to a total domestic media blackout. A search of the Workers Daily website postings from the middle of March to the end of May and of various local labor publications produced no reports--not even a mention--of the unrest. In quieter times, the issues that sparked the protests, such as wage arrears, severance deals, and allegations of corruption, are regularly covered in the official labor press.187

The largest crowds gathered on March 4 and 5. The first day, workers blocked a train heading for Russia for thirty minutes in a successful attempt to attract international attention to the protests. One participant--who would be detained twice in connection with the protests--described the scene:

From 7:00 onwards...more and more people arrived, well over 20,000. We headed towards the railway tracks because some people were saying that an international train was due to come through and it would have foreigners on board; if we hold them up, we will have more impact.... We blocked it for half an hour but then dispersed as we were afraid that a long delay might cause an accident.188

In the four months since the start of the protests, plainclothes police made "snatch" detentions of anyone who appeared to play a leading or organizing role. At least sixty and reportedly as many as 300 were held at least briefly at either the Dongfeng Detention Center in Daqing or the Daqing Reeducation through Labor Center in Dong Feng New Village.189 On March 5, ten worker representatives were taken into custody after they entered the Daqing Oil building at the invitation of officials who had implied a willingness to negotiate.190 They were released three days later on condition they would not return to Iron Man Square.191

That same day, March 5, plainclothes police detained a Mrs. Ma, who had earlier pleaded with the crowd in Iron Man Square to uphold public order and, not to smash any windows or public property. As one worker reported:

She was saying to everyone that we're all laid-off workers and there was no need to smash things up as it would only play into the hands of bad people like the Falungong who would manipulate [the protests]. She said we must respect public order and not break windows and doors.192

Reports indicate that some minor unprovoked acts of vandalism occurred. Human Rights Watch recognizes that Chinese authorities have the right and the responsibility to investigate and prosecute those responsible for acts of violence. The authorities made no allegations that those taken into custody were apprehended for participation in such acts. Indeed, Mrs. Ma urged against any vandalism.

The police detained Mrs. Ma around 4:00 p.m., and, according to another participant who witnessed the incident, officers hit her hard enough to make her mouth bleed.193

According to the same source, a laid-off worker, Mrs. Ma was still in custody as of April 1 and had managed to send out a letter saying she was refusing food. The source reported on two other detentions. Li Yan, a retired worker, was in detention as of April 1; as of this writing in mid-July, his whereabouts and condition remained unknown.194 Another worker was detained for some twenty days for hanging a banner, and released after he paid Rmb 200 to the detention center. Workers in the Square also reported that detainees had to pay a daily charge of Rmb 100 for lodging (pugai fei) and Rmb 10 for food.195

According to participants in the protests, police released some detainees if they signed pledges not to return to Iron Man Square. One worker recounted her experiences in the police station:

She [the police officer] read the contents of the pledge to me clause by clause. Clause 1 said "guarantee not to go take part in disturbances." I told her that of course I have to go [to the square]. If I don't, then I'm finished. This is a matter of my rights.196

As the weeks passed, the situation became increasingly tense. On March 20, a gray Volkswagen Santana careened into workers demonstrating in Iron Man Square injuring at least five people, several seriously.197

Witnesses described the incident:

He was looking for trouble. People were saying the government had put him up to it.... The police had to load him into a police van for his own protection or the crowd would have killed him. In the end, they flipped his car onto its back.198

A leaflet distributed among workers on March 26 reflected workers' suspicions that the car could not have entered the area--which was sealed by roadblocks--without the complicity of the authorities:

We would like to ask how this car got through with the curfew on all vehicles [in the area]. Not one [other] got through the roadblocks. So how did Zhu Dayong get through in broad daylight and knock people down?199

A combination of threats, a police directive, and bad weather dampened a protest planned for April 4, the traditional Qing Ming festival, a day for sweeping graves and commemorating the dead. Workers had planned to commemorate Iron Man Wang, but the Public Security Bureau issued a notice banning the burning of offerings in public places and "suggested" that enterprises demand that workers guarantee that laid-off family members not participate. Workers who failed to stop their kin might find themselves out of work.200

As workers became exhausted and the demonstrations became smaller, the authorities became more assertive. On April 19, at about 10:00 a.m., a combination of police, PAP, and Daqing Oil security guards surrounded Iron Man Square and the Daqing Oil building. Public Security Bureau loudspeakers announced, "Owing to the presence of Falungong activists and people of unknown identity in the square, we need to carry out identity checks. Please do not leave the square."201 There was no evidence of Falungong involvement in the protests.

At about 10:40, police moved in, detaining anyone who had not left. According to one man who was present, the detainees filled twelve public buses. He described the scene in the police station:

I saw this older guy. He was retired, not laid off. The police really steamed into him and were screaming at him, "What good is there in your going to Iron Man Square? What are you doing there? Are you from the Falungong? Tell us, are you Falungong?" The old guy was crying in terror.202

Three days later, on April 22, with some 7,000 workers filling the Square, a Public Security Bureau truck announced that the area was to be cordoned off. After demonstrators were squeezed into areas on the sides of the Square, police dogs sniffed for explosives near Iron Man Wang's statue. None were found.203 During that same week, police on the lookout for employed workers taking part in the protests, stepped up their investigations and ID checks.204 At the same time, former colleagues who were still employed visited laid-off workers to report that Daqing Oil had not paid March bonuses or May 1 holiday bonuses, nor could they expect future bonuses if the protests continued.205

The threats and intimidation may have put a damper on protests; nevertheless, a month later, on May 13, a reported 20,000 workers gathered in front of Daqing Oil to demand negotiations.206

Intimidation was not confined to locals. Daqing authorities also attempted to stop foreign journalists covering the protests. Jiang Xueqin, a Canadian journalist for the Toronto Globe and Mail was deported on June 5 after being detained by police for two days.207 Police had taken him into custody as he filmed protests in and around Iron Man Square.

Despite the media blackout, protests spread to oil fields in Xinjiang, Liaoning, and Hebei provinces. Several thousand laid-off workers from the Huabei Oilfield in Hebei staged demonstrations at the Changzhou city Petroleum Administration Bureau on March 4 in support of the Daqing workers.208 In 2001, workers from the Shengli oil field in Shandong unsuccessfully attempted to file a lawsuit about payment arrears. After the Daqing protests, their stepped up pressure succeeded in persuading a Hebei province court to take the case.209

Fushun, Liaoning Province

China is the largest producer of coal in the world and its largest user, accounting for almost one-fourth of the world's total.210 However, since the late 1990's the country has been experiencing severe oversupply, leading the government to begin restructuring the mining sector.211 In Fushun, a city of over two million residents, which has an open pit mine that has been in operation since the 12th century and which was further developed as a coal mining town at the beginning of the 20th century, the change has meant a steady decline in the city's short-term prospects, in contrast to the sustained growth that began in the 1950s. Protests by laid-off mine workers in March 2002 followed on similar protests dating back at least four years.

As late as 1996, the official China Daily was still reporting that the city "has been one of China's important industrial bases, with its value of fixed assets and pre-tax profits among the country's top twenty cities" thanks to foreign investment and trade.212 And in 2001, city planners were still trying to encourage development of a high-tech sector and new extractive industries to replace overwhelming dependence on heavy industry in general and coal in particular.213 By 2002, the minister in charge of the State Economic and Trade Commission reported to the Standing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress that a majority of mining townships could no longer depend on natural resources to sustain economic viability.214

Fushun's growth strategy did not save its coal miners from layoffs or keep industrial unrest at bay. When a coal mine threatened to lay off 20,000 miners in 1994, they responded with petitions and slowdowns until the provincial government agreed that no one would be laid off and all workers would receive their wages, bonuses, and allowances.215 By 1995, however, the city was experiencing severe unemployment as was the rest of the region.216 In 1997 Premier Zhu Rongji in a tour of the province defended the layoffs and bankruptcies using the coal industry as a model:

One important reason behind state enterprises' problems is their excessive workers or overstaffing. Only with fewer workers can they lower costs, increase efficiency, and survive and develop...This method has been adopted by the coal industry for several years and has been proven to be effective.217

In Fushun, the premier also stressed the need for private ownership of living quarters, rather than industry-provided housing at almost no cost.

In 1999, Longfeng State Mine was allowed to declare bankruptcy, throwing close to 100,000 miners out of work.218 During 2000, the Tiger Platform coal mine laid off 24,000 of its 30,000 miners, awarding them compensation of U.S.$220 for each year of service, but with cutbacks on state-provided medical and heating benefits.219 Workers from other industries were also laid off. By 1998 and 1999, retired miners were blocking roads and the rail line and occupying the train station in Fushun to protest lack of pension payments.220 By 2001, according to official figures, 396,596 people were "at their post," but 305,128 were "not at their post," for a 43 percent laid-off (xia gang) rate. The registered unemployment rate was only 2.7 percent.221

In 2002, an air of poverty-induced crisis haunted the city:

Block after block of crumbling factories, their grounds covered in weeds, surround a few streets of mobile-phone retailers and gaudily fronted restaurants that offer a life few believe they will ever be able to afford. "People have a real sense of crisis," said a shopkeeper in Fushun.222

Sustained protests began in mid-March 2002 when as many as 10,000 laid-off workers from coal mines and cement, steel, and petrochemical factories blocked the railroad and the main road into Fushun over inadequate severance payments.223 During the second half of the month, laid-off coal miners, including some from the Tiger Platform Mine and Victory Mine planned and executed more sit-downs on the railroad tracks. To avoid being arrested, the organizers publicized the time and place of protests by putting up anonymous posters in the streets and buildings within workers' quarters.224 It was illegal to put up posters in these locations without permission and required a group effort, darkness, and lookouts to accomplish. The method succeeded in recruiting some 3,000 participants who blocked the railroad twice more. To end the protests, Fushun officials distributed 75 renminbi (U.S.$9.00) to each of the protesters and deployed the People's Armed Police to remove those who wouldn't disperse.225

58 The outcome of a strike in Dafeng city, Jiangsu province and a protest by employed and laid-off workers in Jilin are typical examples. For several nights after workers occupied Shuangfeng Textile Factory in Dafeng during a strike over a pay cut, Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers attempted unsuccessfully to drive them out. The PSB did succeed in removing a few but immediately released them; most went back to the occupied factory the next day. Only when a People's Armed Police unit joined the police were all the workers ejected. Identified leaders were arrested and rank and file workers were visited in their homes by management representatives. They told workers that the pay cut stood, but promised to pay share dividends owed and to provide welfare payments to those laid-off. Philip P. Pan, "High tide of labor unrest in China, striking workers risk arrest to protest pay cuts, corruption," Washington Post, January 21, 2002. In mid-July 2001, after a three-day protest by employees of the Jishu Mine Bureau in Jilin province, the local government paid workers one month's owed wages, and laid-off workers livelihood stipend arrears. The workers had blocked the Harbin-Jilin railway line for three days, but no arrests were reported. Pringle, "Industrial Unrest in China...," p. 4.

59 Fong Tak-ho, "Authorities struggling to prise [sic] once prosperous city from grip of poverty," South China Morning Post, March 29, 2002.

60 "China-Protests: Fifty Injured During Clash Between Police, Workers" EFE News Service, May 16, 2000.

61 Unemployed Workers of the Bankrupt Liaoyang Ferroalloy Plant, "Open letter to President Jiang Zemin," March 5, 2002.

62 Jasper Becker, "Workers in a state of disunion," South China Morning Post, March 23, 2002; "Workers Block Major China Highway over Factory Bankruptcy," China Labor Rights News [Online], October 19, 2001, (accessed on June 1, 2002).

63 Matthew Forney and Neil Gough, "Working Man Blues," Time Magazine, April 1, 2002.

64 "Liaoning tongji nianjian" ("Statistical Yearbook of Liaoning, 2001"), (Shenyang: China Statistical Publishing House, 2001), pp. 66-68 and p. 92.

65 Human Rights Watch calculated the laid-off (xia gang) rate by dividing the number of workers "not at their post" by the total of those at their post and those not at their post.

66 "Liaoning tongji nianjian...," China Statistical Publishing House.

67 Fong Tak-ho, "Authorities struggling to..." South China Morning Post.

68 Unemployed Workers of the Bankrupt Liaoyang Ferroalloy Plant , "Open Letter to the Citizens of Liaoyang, `Sack Gong Shangwu, Liberate Liaoyang,'" March 5, 2002.

69 "Government spokesperson answers reporters' questions related to the Ferroalloy Company bankruptcy," Liaoyang Daily, March 21, 2002.

70 Unemployed Workers of the Bankrupt Liaoyang Ferroalloy Plant, "Open letter to Governor Bo Xi," March 5, 2002.

71 Ibid.

72 Beginning with the 15th Party Congress in 1997, SOEs in financial difficulty had two choices: to file for bankruptcy or increase productivity and efficiency, usually through restructuring. A Liaoyang government spokesperson explained that the Ferroalloy Company's "basic reason for bankruptcy was financial insolvency (zi bu di zhai) [leading to] a total inability to meet scheduled debt repayments." "Shi zhengfu xinwen fayan ren jiu Liaoyang Tiehejin [jituan] youxian gongsi pochan ji youguan wenti jizhe wen" ("Government spokesperson answers reporters' questions related to the Ferroalloy Company bankruptcy"), Liaoyang Daily, March 21, 2002. Restructuring involves a number of strategies, including: downsizing, merger, cancellation of welfare obligations, full or partial buy-outs by domestic or foreign investors, restructuring as a joint-stock company, and employee share-ownership schemes. Most such measures require new capital and are usually accompanied by staff cuts. SOE staff cuts are officially regulated by State Council Decree No. 10, "Notice on the practical and official provision of livelihood guarantees and reemployment of laid-off (xia gang) SOE workers," issued June 9, 1998. Under this decree, laid-off (xia gang) workers retain their ties to the company; and enterprises are required to: establish re-employment centers which workers can attend for up to three years; partially reimburse medical costs; and pay a livelihood stipend (shenghuo fei). Since mid-2001, however, as the legal requirement to set up re-employment centers was gradually being phased out, former SOEs offered lump-sum severance compensation agreements (mai duan gongling) based on years of service; and with the phase-out of the xia gang category, lump-sum agreements became more common. Current government policy is for workers to register directly as formally unemployed, thus ending all ties with the enterprise.

73 Unemployed Workers..., "Open letter to Governor Bo Xi."

74 Yao Fuxin never worked at the Ferroalloy factory, although his wife, Guo Xiujing, worked there for many years. Until he was laid off, Yao worked at the Liaoyang Steel Rolling Mill.

75 Unemployed Workers of the Bankrupt Liaoyang Ferroalloy Plant, "Open letter to the Liaoyang Party Committee, government leaders, the Ferroalloy Bankruptcy Clearing Accounts Working Group, factory cadres, and workers and their families," March 4, 2002.

76 Chen Tai, "Liaoyang tiehejin chang gongren douzheng de qianyin houguo - Laizi Liaoyang de baogao" ("Causes and effects of the struggle by workers from the Liaoyang Ferroalloy Factory worker - Report from Liaoyang"), Xianqu Jikan (Pioneer Monthly), Issue 64 (Summer 2002), p. 23. It is unclear whether the machine operators and technicians were owed back wages or livelihood stipends. The information came from workers who often refer to stipends as wages.

77 Radio Free Asia interview with worker surnamed Xiao, March 19, 2002, English translation of transcript, (accessed on April 2, 2002).

78 "China-Protests: Fifty Injured During Clash Between Police, Workers," EFE News Service, May 16, 2000.

79 "More than 1,000 mainland factory workers have besieged...," BBC Monitoring Service, from RTHK Radio 3, Hong Kong, May 16, 2000.

80 "Five thousand workers clash with 1,000 public security," BBC Monitoring Service, May 17, 2000.

81 "At least fifty workers injured in clash with Chinese police," Kyodo News, May 16, 2000.

82 "Worker representative" as used in this report refers to the four arrested men and other unnamed organizers involved in the Ferroalloy workers' campaign and the ten representatives who negotiated with oil industry officials and managers in Daqing. Protesting workers all over China coined the term and similar ones in response to the government's practice of arresting workers' "leaders." As an employee at the Dafeng city Shuangfeng Textile Mill (see footnote no. 58) explained: "Don't call us leaders. We're just volunteers. We have to be very careful. I don't know who they are in the other shifts, and they don't know who I am." The more public one's activity as a representative, organizer, or volunteer, the greater the likelihood of arrest. In an interview with Radio Free Asia broadcast the day before his March 20 detention, Ferroalloy worker representative Xiao Yunliang acknowledged he was well aware of the risks: "Of course my personal safety is under threat! I don't know if they will come and get me tonight. I have been in hiding these last few days" (Radio Free Asia interview, March 19, 2002, English translation of transcript, [accessed on March 28, 2002]). Some worker representatives also served as formal representatives of the Ferroalloy Company staff and worker congress. According to Article 19 of the Trade Union Law (2001), the body has the right to participate in democratic management of the enterprise and may deliberate on major company policy decisions.

83 "Riot-hit northern Chinese city calm after unrest," Agence France-Presse, May 17, 2000.

84 Unemployed Workers..., "Open letter to President Jiang Zemin."

85 Chen Tai, "Liaoyang tiehejin chang...," pp. 23-25. An earlier example of asset-stripping involved the merger of the Power Generation Apparatus Works in Zhengzhou, Henan province with a private company. In 1998, when a moving company attempted to remove machinery, the plant's workers and others from a nearby factory tried unsuccessfully to resist. One worker was knifed and had his skull fractured. See Matthew Forney and Neil Gough, "Working Man Blues," Time Magazine, April 1, 2002; and Jiang Xueqin, "Fighting to Organize," Far Eastern Economic Review, September 6, 2001, p. 72.

86 Tonnage cited in "More than 1,000 workers protest in north China-group," Reuters, May 22, 2001.

87 "Law of the People's Republic of China on Enterprise Bankruptcy (for trial implementation)," adopted at the 18th Meeting of the Standing Committee of the Sixth National People's Congress and promulgated by Order No.45 of the President of the People's Republic of China on December 2, 1986 (with the stipulation that trial implementation would not begin until three full months after the Law on Industrial Enterprises with Ownership by the Whole People came into effect), wysiwyg://Content.261/ http://www.le...d5=80d377b4cf761388169f66904a1925e9 (accessed on April 8, 2002). Article 35 states: "During the period from six months before the people's court accepts the bankruptcy case until the date that bankruptcy is declared, the following actions of a bankrupt enterprise are null and void: (1) concealment, secret distributions or transfers of property without compensation; (2) sale of property at abnormally depressed prices; (3) securing with property claims that originally were not secured with property; (4) early repayment of claims that are not yet due; and (5) abandonment of the enterprise's own claims. With respect to bankrupt enterprises which have committed acts listed in the previous paragraphs, the liquidation team has the right to apply to the people's court to recover the property, which shall be added to the bankruptcy property."

88 Chen Tai, "Liaoyang tiehejin chang..." pp. 23-25. The incident is also referred to in Point 10 of the "Open letter to the Liaoyang Party Committee...," from the Unemployed Workers of the Bankrupt Liaoyang Ferroalloy Plant, March 4, 2002.

89 Chen Tai, "Liaoyang tiehejin chang..." pp. 23-25.

90 Trade Union Law of the People's Republic of China (1992), (Beijing: Falu Chubanshi [Legal Publishing House] 1992). Article 30 states "In an enterprise owned by the whole people, the congress of workers and staff members shall, as the basic form of democratic management of the enterprise and the organ by which the workers and staff members exercise their right to democratic management, discharge its functions and powers in accordance with the stipulations of the Law of the People's Republic of China on Industrial Enterprises Owned by the Whole People."

91 Chinese regulations require official worker representatives to canvas workers for their opinions.

92 Chen Tai, "Liaoyang tiehejin chang..." p. 23-25.

93 "Workers Block Major China Highway..." China Labor Rights News.

94 Ibid.

95 Personal communication from Li Qiang, China Labor Watch, June 22, 2002.

96 "Government spokesperson answers reporters' questions...," Liaoyang Daily.

97 Unemployed Workers..., "Open letter to President Jiang Zemin."

98 Ibid.

99 Unemployed Workers..., "Open letter to Governor Bo Xi."

100 Unemployed Workers..., "Open Letter to the Citizens of Liaoyang..."

101 Ibid.

102 Unemployed Workers..., "Open letter to the Liaoyang Party Committee..." The "Liquidation Team" has the responsibility for compiling a final list of creditors; convening a creditors' meeting; overseeing asset sales; and ensuring that funds from such sales are used to clear outstanding wage and pension arrears, livelihood stipend arrears, medical reimbursements, and other miscellaneous debts to employees.

103 Ibid.

104 John Pomfret, "With Carrots and Sticks, China Quiets Protesters," Washington Post, March 22, 2002.

105 "Liaoyang Workers' leader Yao Fuxin Secretly Detained," China Labor Bulletin Press Release, March 19, 2002, (accessed on March 20, 2002). Figures quoted are based on estimates from participants.

106 Radio Free Asia interview with Liaoyang Ferroalloy Company worker representative Xiao Yunliang, March, 19, 2002, English translation of the transcript, (accessed on April 12, 2002).

107 Unemployed Workers..., "Open Letter to President Jiang Zemin."

108 Yang Ming, "Liaoyang wanming gongren zaici shiwei qingyuan" ("Liaoyang workers again demonstrate and petition"), Voice of America, March 12, 2002, reprinted in Xianqu Jikan (Pioneer Monthly), Issue 63 (Spring 2002), p. 27.

109 Radio Free Asia interview with cadre from Liaoyang government office, "Over 30,000 Liaoyang Workers Demonstrate to Demand Yao's Release," March 18, 2002, English translation of transcript, (accessed on March 29, 2002).

110 Ibid.

111 See, for example, "Liaoyang Workers' leader Yao Fuxin Secretly Detained," China Labor Bulletin Press Release. It should be noted that as with most parades, demonstrations, and protests, participants tend to exaggerate the numbers; opponents tend to downplay them.

112 Robert J. Saiget, "Chinese police curb protests as demos enter third straight day," Agence France-Presse, March 19, 2002.

113 Radio Free Asia interview with Yao Fuxin's daughter, "Update on Liaoyang Workers' Protests," March 21, 2002, English translation of transcript, (accessed on April 2, 2002).

114 Radio Free Asia interview with Guo Xiujing, "Two more workers arrested in Liaoyang," March 21, 2002, English translation of transcript, (accessed on March 28, 2002).

115 Guo was released after several hours. As of late July 2002, Human Rights Watch has been unable to identify the other worker or determine whether he is still in custody.

116 Robert J. Saiget, "Chinese Police curb protests..."

117 Radio Free Asia interview, "Liaoyang Workers Protest Update," March 22, 2002, English translation of transcript, (accessed on April 6, 2002).

118 "PRC Law on Assemblies, Parades and Demonstration," BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, November 2, 1989, from Xinhua, October 31, 1989. "Regulations for the Implementation of the Law of Assembly, Procession and Demonstration of the People's Republic of China," (Implementing Regulations) Articles 7-12, June 1992.

119 "Government spokesperson answers reporters' questions...," Liaoyang Daily. Although the article does not say so specifically, "making links" refers to cooperation among workers from diverse factories and work units.

120 Robert J. Saiget, "Workers Vow Defiance, keep up protests in northeast China city," Agence France-Presse, March 21, 2002.

121 "China worker protests rekindled despite employment offer," Reuters, March 25, 2002.

122 Hei shou is a Chinese euphemism for manipulators of public protests operating behind the scenes.

123 "China worker protests rekindled...," Reuters.

124 Jonathan Ansfield, "Beijing Retirees Demand Overdue Pension Payments," Reuters, March 27, 2001.

125 "China worker protests rekindled...," Reuters. The four were charged under Article 296 of the Criminal Law; see next section, below.

126 Fong Tak-ho and agencies, "Workers threaten to resume protests unless arrested workers released," South China Morning Post, March 25, 2002. According to a government spokesperson, as of March 15, 2002, the government had issued a total of Rmb 9.9 million in lump-sum, [job] resettlement allowances to 664 people and Rmb 2.4 million lump-sum economic compensation payments to 622 people. Six hundred seventy former contract workers (hetong zhigong) were to receive unemployment insurance; 814 workers who had not received lump-sum payments would be covered by pension agreements. In addition, benefits would be adjusted for workers who retired before bankruptcy, for former workers within five years of retirement age, and for those who retired early or who had incurred serious injuries. See "Government spokesperson answers reporters' questions...." Liaoyang Daily. Industrial injuries are graded in China; those up to grade six are considered serious enough to hinder employment prospects.

127 "PRC: Relatives Seeking Release of Labor Leaders, Others Flee Officials in Liaoyang," in Federal Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), April 1, 2002, from Hong Kong iMail, March 30, 2002.

128 Vivien Pik-Kwan Chan, "Beijing orders protest crackdown," South China Morning Post, March 30, 2002.

129 "Chinese Labor Leaders Indicted for Illegal Assembly," Agence France-Presse, March 31, 2002.

130 "Press Release on Detained Workers in Liaoyang," China Labour Bulletin, April 11, 2002, (accessed on April 12, 2002).

131 "Hundreds Demand Protesters' Release," South China Morning Post, May 10, 2002.

132 "Police abuse alleged by Liaoyang workers," South China Morning Post, April 24, 2002. The Implementing Regulations require a "responsible individual," (Article 8) who must "submit in person a written application" together with "his own resident card" (Article 9).

133 "Liaoyang gongren zuixin de baodao" ("Latest report on the Liaoyang workers"), China Labour Bulletin, March 8, 2002, (accessed on May 2, 2002).

134 Ibid.

135 "Liaoyang jingfangzaici dui heping qingyuan gongren shiyong baoli" ("Police authorities again use violence against peaceful workers' protest"), China Labour Bulletin, May 15, 2002, (accessed on June 12, 2002).

136 "PRC Law on Assemblies, Parades and Demonstration," see Articles 8-13.

137 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 21.

138 Manfred Nowak, U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: CCPR Commentary (Strasbourg: N.P. Engel, 1993), p. 379.

139 "PRC Law on Assemblies...," Articles 4 and 12.

140 Ibid., Article 8.

141 Ibid., Article 13.

142 "Whoever holds an assembly, parade, demonstration without application in accordance with the law or without authorization after application, or does not carry it out in accordance with the beginning time and ending time, place, and road as permitted by authorities concerned, and refuses to obey an order to dismiss, thereby seriously sabotaging social order, those personnel who are in charge and those who are directly responsible are to be sentenced to not more than five years of fixed-term imprisonment, criminal detention, control or deprived of political rights." "China: Text of Criminal Law," FBIS, March 25, 1997, from Beijing Xinhua Domestic Service, March 17, 1997.

143 "PRC Law on Assemblies...," Article 12, Section 4 (4).

144 Much has been written about the severe deficiencies of the Chinese legal system and of the particular problems faced by defendants in politically sensitive trials. Among major concerns are the lack of presumption of innocence, prolonged incommunicado detention, procedural shortcomings that compromise defendants' rights, use of illegally obtained evidence, secrecy, politically driven verdicts, and administrative sanction substituting for formal criminal punishment. For a full discussion of the issues, see Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Opening to Reform? An Analysis of China's Revised Criminal Procedure Law (New York: LCHR, 1996) and Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Wrongs and Rights: A Human Rights Analysis of China's Revised Criminal Law (New York: LCHR, 1998).

145 Perhaps the most famous incident is when a concrete mixer broke down and a mix of concrete was in danger of being wasted. Wang jumped in the mix and used his legs-one of which was artificial--to keep it fresh.

146 "8 wan mai duan zhigong tongbaomen!" ("80,000 Fellow Retrenched Workers"), a leaflet produced by former oil workers, reprinted in Xianqu Jikan (Pioneer Quarterly), March 25, 2002, Issue 63 (Spring 2002), p. 19.

147 Mao Zedong, speech at the 8th Party Congress, 2nd session, May 18, 1958, quoted in Nigel Harris, The Mandate of Heaven - Marx and Mao in Modern China (London: Quartet Books, 1978), p. 49.

148 Jasper Becker, Hungry Ghosts - China's Secret Famine (London: John Murray, 1996), p. xi.

149 Daqing City Profile, (accessed on June 13, 2002).

150 Chen Tai, "Daqing gongchao zongshu" ("Summary of Daqing labor unrest"), May 12, 2002.

151 Ibid.

152 Ibid.

153 Daqing City Profile.

154 "Per Capita Annual Income of Urban and Rural Households and Their Related Index," China Internet Information Center,, (accessed on July 5, 2002); see also Daqing City Profile.

155 Jin Yan and Tian Lei, "Daqing zaiyuan de gaoan chengben" ("The High Cost of Daqing's Downsizing"), Sanlian shenghuo, Issue 14, April 8, 2002, p. 36-39.

156 Source for the figure only: James Kynge, "Labor protests worry Chinese premier," Financial Times, March 16, 2002.

157 John Gittings, "Strikes convulse China's oil-rich heartlands: Unrest said to be worst since Tiananmen," Guardian, March 21, 2002.

158 Anthony Kuhn, "Ex-Workers Face off with China Oil Firm, Shift toward a market economy has left thousands in the northeast unemployed," Los Angeles Times," March 19, 2002.

159 Workers still refer to the newly named Daqing Oil Company Ltd. as the Daqing Petroleum Administration Bureau.

160 Energy Information Administration, "China," June 2002, (accessed on July 6, 2002).

161 Anthony Kuhn, "Ex-Workers Face off...," Los Angeles Times.

162 James Kynge, "Labor protests...," Financial Times.

163 Nan Chen, "Making all-out efforts - interview with Daqing Mayor Wang Zhibin," BBC Monitoring, March 13, 2002, from Xinhua, March 13, 2002.

164 John Pomfret, "Chinese Oil Country Simmers as Workers Protest Cost-Cutting: Thousands Laid Off, Benefits Reduced," Washington Post, March 16, 2002.

165 Damien McElroy, "Chinese police face `iron men,'" Daily Telegraph, March 20, 2002.

166 Human Rights Watch interview, Daqing, March 10, 2002.

167 Wang Fucheng, vice-president of PetroChina, Daqing Oil Company's parent company, quoted in "PetroChina buys Indonesian oilfields," South China Morning Post, April 4, 2002.

168 Reprinted in Xianqu Jikan (Pioneer Monthly), Issue 63 (Spring 2002), p. 19. In the same issue, a Daqing labor activist reports, "50,000...were retrenched with compensation on November 20, 2000 and 30,000 the following year." The term "retrenched worker" (alternatively "redundant worker") refers to a laid-off worker. Some such workers volunteered to be among those laid off; others had no choice.

169 Jin Yan and Tian Lei, "Daqing zaiyuan ...," p. 37.

170 Mark O'Neill, "Quarter of city's oil workers left out in the cold," South China Morning Post, April 10, 2002.

171 The workers' leaflets referred to the documents as DPAB Document Nos. 2000117 ("Methods for the printing and distribution of compensated dismissal contracts") and 2000118.

172 "Leaflet 1 - Retrenched workers cherish the memory of Mao Zedong," March 3, 2002, cited in Xianqu Jikan (Pioneer Monthly), Issue 63 (Spring 2002), p. 17. According to the handbill, the documents issued by the company "do not tally with the compensated redundancy contract, do not possess any legal validity...and the announcements [documents] are therefore void." See also Anthony Kuhn, "Ex-Workers Face off...," Los Angeles Times; Mark O'Neill, "Quarter of city's oil workers...," South China Morning Post.

173 "Guowuyuan diaocha zu fuze ren Daqing jianghua yaodian" ("Main points of the speech by the coordinator of the State Council's Investigation Team"), broadcast over the public address system in Iron Man Square on March 25, 2002, transcription in Xianqu Jikan (Pioneer Monthly), Issue 63, (Spring 2002), p. 21.

174 Former oil workers leaflet "Women bixu tao hui gongdao" ("We Must Have Justice"), March 26, 2002, reprinted in Xianqu Jikan (Pioneer Monthly), Issue 63 (Spring 2002), p. 24. In the leaflets, the workers consistently refer to Daqing Oil as the Daqing Petroleum Administration Bureau.

175 Jin Yan and Tian Lei, "Daqing zaiyuan...," Sanlian shengguo, p. 38.

176 John Pomfret, "Chinese Oil Country Simmers...," Washington Post; Mark O'Neill, "Quarter of city's oil workers...," South China Morning Post.

177 "Daqing Oilfield Workers' Struggle (1)," China Labor Bulletin, (accessed on March 12, 2002).

178 Human Rights Watch interview, Daqing, March 11, 2002.

179 Figures on the size of the increase in medical and pension premiums vary. The percentage given is based on figures quoted in a report by Lin Jin, "Laizi Daqing de baogao" ("Report from Daqing"), Xianqu Jikan (Pioneer Monthly), Issue 63 (Spring 2002), p. 14.

180 "50,000 Daqing Oilfield Workers Organize Independent Trade Union," China Labour Bulletin Press Release, March 6, 2002, (accessed on March 10, 2002); "Chinese worker protests ease as government digs in," Reuters, March 26, 2002.

181 John Pomfret, "Chinese Oil Country Simmers...," Washington Post.

182 "Chinese petrochemical firm listed on false grounds: official," Agence France-Presse, May 25, 1999.

183 Lin Jin, "Laizi Daqing de baogao," Xianqu Jikan (Pioneer Monthly), Issue 63 (Spring 2002), p. 15.

184 "Daqing Oilfield Workers' Protests," China Labour Bulletin Press Release, March 6, 2002, (accessed on July 24, 2002).

185 "50,000 Daqing Oilfield Workers Organize Independent Trade Union," China Labor Bulletin Press Release, March 6, 2002, (accessed on March 10, 2002).

186 Radio Free Asia interview, April 1, 1002, English translation of transcript, (accessed on April 12, 2002).

187 See for example, "How have wage arrears become a national custom," Workers Daily, September 5, 2001, an article critical of the practice and its violation of workers' legal rights; Hou Yongdong, "Shenyang `xiehe' da caiyuan, yiqian bai ming yuangong wuyi xingmian - mei jing dongshihui he zhigong daibiaohui taolun," ("None of the 1,100 workers at Shenyang City's Harmony Company escape the mass lay-off. Neither the board of directors or the staff and workers representative congress discuss the issue"), Liaoning zhigong bao (Liaoning Staff and Workers Daily), June 3, 1996, an article critical of the "ornamental trade union," and its lack of democratic consultation and dictatorial management leading to mass layoffs. Foreign reporters came in for their share of harassment. Zhang Xueqin, a Canadian citizen and reporter for the Globe and Mail, was held for two days and expelled for filming protests.

188 "Yi ming bei gongan liang zhua fang Daqing mai duan zhigong zishu," ("Twice Detained and Twice Released - A laid-off oil worker from Daqing tells his tale"), Xianqu Jikun, Issue 63 (Spring 2002), p. 22.

189 Ibid.

190 "Crackdown in Daqing with 60 Arrests and Police Beating," China Labor Bulletin, (accessed on April 3, 2002).

191 International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM), "China's Protesting Oil Workers Get Global Union Backing," ICEM Update, Issue 16, April 3, 2002, (accessed on May 12, 2002).

192 Radio Free Asia interview with former oil worker in Daqing, April 1, 2002, English translation of the transcript, "Crackdown in Daqing with 60 Arrests and Police Beating," China Labour Bulletin, (accessed on June 12, 2002).

193 Ibid.

194 Ibid.

195 Lin Jin, "Daqing dangju jajin zhenya, kangyi qunzhong shiqi diluo," ("Authorities in Daqing increase repression, protesters morale drops, report from Daqing"), Xianqu Jikan (Pioneer Monthly), Issue 64 (Summer 2002), pp. 5-7.

196 "Yi ming bei gongan...," Xianqu Jikan.

197 Crackdown in Daqing ...," China Labour Bulletin.

198 Ibid.

199 "8 wan mai duan zhigong tongbaomen!" ("80,000 Fellow Retrenched Workers"), a leaflet produced by former oil workers, reprinted in Xianqu Jikan (Pioneer Quarterly), March 25, 2002, Issue 63 (Spring 2002), p. 19.

200 "Why doesn't the government take steps to resolve its conflicts with the people?" China Labour Bulletin, May 6, 2002, (accessed on July 24, 2002).

201 Lin Jin, "Daqing dangju jajin zhenya...," Xianqu Jikan.

202 Ibid.

203 Ibid.

204 Ibid.

205 Ibid.

206 "The Daqing workers' protest continues," China Labour Bulletin Press Release, May 13, 2002, (accessed on May 14, 2002).

207 Jiang Xueqin, "China's Powerful Police," Asian Wall Street Journal, July 9, 2002.

208 "Daqing Oil Workers' Action Rages On with Solidarity Demonstrations," China Labour Bulletin, March 18, 2002, (accessed on May 25, 2002).

209 "Hebei Shengli Oilfield Workers Sue Employer Over Retrenchment," China Labor Bulletin, May 5, 2002, (accessed on June 12, 2002).

210 Energy Information Administration, "China," June 2002, (accessed on July 6, 2002).

211 Ibid.

212 Song Lijun and Xu Guangfa, "Fushun to become magnet for more overseas investors," China Daily, July 12, 1996.

213 Chinese Business Information Network, Financial Times, December 19, 2001; Zhou Wanfeng, "Coal City Turning to Other Industries," China Daily, June 4, 2001.

214 "PRC: CPPCC Urges Mining Cities To Find Alternative Industries," FBIS, June 28, 2002, from Xinhua, June 27, 2002.

215 "Hong Kong Paper Catalogues Current Labor Unrest - Strikes, Rallies, Petitions," BBC Monitoring, April 16, 1994.

216 Uli Schmetzer, "A Widening Wage Gap The Only Product of Many Factories in China," Chicago Tribune, February 21, 1995.

217 "Zhu Rongji inspects state firms, mines in Liaoning Province," BBC Monitoring, August 9, 1997.

218 "China's Coal Mine Closure Campaign Runs Into Opposition," Dow Jones Energy Service, July 11, 1999.

219 Robert Marquand, "China faces growing labor unrest; Workers in Liaoyang are threatening to march again this week if protest leaders are not freed from jail," Christian Science Monitor, March 25, 2002; Charles Hutzler, "Chinese Labor Protests Die Down, for Now - Local Governments' Measures Defuse Tensions," Asian Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2002.

220 "Rebellion in China," Jane's Intelligence Review, January 1, 2001.

221 See footnotes 64-66.

222 Charles Hutzler, "Chinese Labor Protests Die Down...," Asian Wall Street Journal.

223 John Chan, "May Day in China: Government glorifies the rich, workers protest inequality," WSWS, May 8, 2002, (accessed on June 12, 2002).

224 "6,000 Liaoning Miners, Guizhou Pensioners Protest," China Labour Bulletin, April 10, 2002, (accessed on July 6, 2002).

225 Charles Hutzler, "Chinese Labor Protests Die Down...," Asian Wall Street Journal.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page