Photo by Andrea Hsu, NPR
Chengdu residents turned out Sunday to protest the building of an ethylene plant they say could further pollute the city's air and water.
Hundreds of people gathered along Chengdu's Funan River Sunday, to express concern over the building of a state-owned ethylene plant they fear will pollute the air and the water. Word of this environmental protest spread through cell phone text messages that urged people to gather for a stroll, without slogans, without posters. And that's what people did.
For two hours, the protestors, some of them in face masks, walked, chatted, loitered by the river. Police were present, on motorcycles, in cruisers, and later - on foot, a large group of them having been bused in.
But few seemed intimidated.
Photos were being snapped left and right, some of the protestors posing for pictures in front of the police bus. I caught one young activist lecturing a group of four fresh-faced cops, telling them they should throw their police caps into the river, put on face masks, and take an interest in protecting the natural environment. Later on, when a policeman on a megaphone ordered the crowd to disperse, another protestor called out "But we're just waiting for the bus!" sending ripples of laughter through the crowd.
All in all, it was a remarkable scene: hundreds of people openly, if somewhat cautiously, expressing discontent. But, as another protestor pointed out, Sunday's gathering was still a far cry from what, ideally, they would be doing, if allowed.