Paraxylene and grassroots in Xiamen

Xiamen (厦门) is a coastal city in Fujian province, China. It was one of the first cities to open up to foreign investment in the 1980’s and has seen good economic growth since. Only 16 km from the city center, Tenglong Aromatic PX is constructing a 10.8 billion RMB chemical plant that is expected to produce 800,000 tons of paraxylene (PX) per year. Fears of an environmental disaster has lead to the rise of what looks like a grassroots movement to stop the plans. There was some movement in the Chinese blogosphere and in the middle of May Memedia reported on anti-PX graffiti in Xiamen (the blog of the graffiti artist has since been shut down).

On the 25th of May, an SMS began spreading like a virus among the 1.5 million residents of Xiamen, being resent nearly 1 million times and also posted by some bloggers.


English translation:

Taiwan top fugitive Chen You-hao and Xianglu Group’s joint venture has already begun construction of the PX plant at Haicang. Once this extremely poisonous chemical is produced, it will be like an atomic bomb for the people of Xiamen, we will have leukemia and deformed babies. We want to live, we want to be healthy! International groups prescribe that this kind of plant must be at least 100 km from cities, but our Xiamen is only 16 km away! For the sake of our grandchildren, take action! Join the 10,000 people march, beginning at the 1st of June at 8:00. We will march towards the City Hall. Wear a yellow arm ribbon! When you read this message, send it to all your friends in Xiamen.

On May 30 the local authorities held a press conference and declared that the project would be put on hold in response to public opinion (reported by Xinhua). Despite this, demonstrations went ahead on the 1st of June. Zola (“China’s first citizen reporter”) was there and reported both via his blog and twitter, as did shizhao. Good English information on the demonstrations has been provided by Jeremy Goldkorn and John Kennedy. More than 10,000 people attended the demonstrations that even continued for a second day. Although there were some reports of injuries, the authorities seem to have kept calm and not interfered much.

Oppose PX, Protect Xiamen

The end of this story has yet to come, but it seems unlikely that the project could go on when the public opinion is so massively against it. This represents a victory of the grassroots against the authorities, who have done their best to suppress reporting on the protests. The graffiti mentioned earlier has become a symbol in an Internet campaign to oppose PX which has been popping up on several of my favorite blogs the last few days:

Pass on the yellow ribbon, care for Xiamen

Hoping for the worst

I just learned that The Pirate Bay and Piratbyrån were raided today. I don’t know much about what’s happened, but I really do hope that things have been handled very poorly. I hope that the allegations made by SVT that this was triggered by pressure from America are true and that it will cause public outrage. If Thomas Bodström is somehow involved (unlikely perhaps), that would be absolutely superb too.

Why do I hope for the worst? Because I want this to become a topic of fierce political debate so that it will be very clear who is a friend and who is an enemy in the upcoming Swedish election. It’s been clear for a long time that none of the big parties are friends, but perhaps this will force some of them to make sensible decisions and become more friendly (look at what’s happening in France, it’s not impossible). I don’t know if the recently formed Pirate Party are sane, but hopefully they’ll be given a chance to present their views in the debate that will now follow.

The last time there was some debate about copyrights (when Sweden changed the copyright legislation to conform with EUCD last summer) I discussed and thought about these issues quite a bit. I arrived at the conclusion that copyright probably shouldn’t be abolished all together, but that some of the following might be good ideas.

  • Shorten the copyright term to something between 5 and 20 years.
  • Allow all non-commercial distribution use of works covered by copyright. If the copyright term is very short, this may not actually be necessary. Conversely, with a long term it might be useful to allow even more non-commercial uses (e.g. sampling music or re-editing bad movies).
  • Disallow distribution of works which have not been published. The idea is that a creator should have the authority to stop distribution of copies that have been physically stolen or otherwise leaked before they are completed an published. Without this, I think it would be legal to publish someones private letters or photos without permission, and that wouldn’t be cool.

Why does it matter? I have a vision that my children will be able to access a wikipedia-like database of all culture that has been produced in human history, with high technical quality and instant access. It’s much too hard to find works of culture these days, at least works that are a few years old. If you have access to a warez top-site you might be able to get anything you want, but it’s only for a small elite.

Why are we locking away old culture that no longer makes money for anyone? The works that do make money long after they were created are the ones that were very popular to begin with and don’t need a long copyright term. Some people want to make piles of money from The Beatles even though half of The Bealtes are already dead! I want everyone to be able to hear The Beatles at will. Copyright is not given by nature, it’s a political tool and we should use it as we see fit to get the results we want. This is the information age, and with the proper legal framework in place we could reach the point where quality culture is a commons, not something for economic and technical elites.