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Smart Mobs Halt Construction of a Chemical Plant in China
Sarah Rich, 15 Jun 07
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In Xiamen, on the southeastern coast of China, a petrochemical corporation has been constructing a $1.4 million factory to produce p-Xylene, a highly toxic petrochemical used to make polyester for fiber and plastic packaging. Public concern in the city over the health risks posed by the factory's presence has been stirring dissent for some time, but opponents face the powerful joint force of a corporation and the government.

Then several weeks ago, someone sent a text message. It said:

Once this extremely poisonous chemical is produced, it means an atomic bomb will have been placed in Xiamen. The people of Xiamen will have to live with leukemia and deformed babies. We want our lives and health!

As the LA Times affirms, "cellphones present a new challenge to the [Chinese] government, because all but the poorest people in China own one and text messaging is ubiquitous — used far more often, and by a wider span of ages, than in the U.S., where it tends to be a tool of the young."

Spreading like a virus, the message was repeated more than 1 million times, environmentalists said, until it had reached practically everyone in Xiamen, a city of 1.5 million people...known for its clean air and scenic views. It also spread beyond cellphones, splashed on walls in the form of graffiti and posted on blogs and other websites throughout China.

A few days later, the municipal government halted construction of the chemical plant, and is apparently evaluating whether or not to resume building.

It's well known that the government tries to stringently regulate and limit communications in China, particularly citizen media platforms, so unsurprisingly, by the next day most Web-based information about the event had been removed. But there was nothing that could be done about the communication that instantiated the event, and try as they may, it's a very difficult communication channel to control. The combination of rising environmental concern and increasingly ubiquitous technological tools means that citizens have far more power -- and feel far more empowered -- to demand conditions that promote their wellbeing and protect their surroundings.

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Curious -- do we have any information about the subsequent steps the smart mob took after the text message went out?

how did it go from a text to a government decision? what action did the mob take? it's one thing to "spread the word," it's another to motivate to action, and it's yet another to develop a strategy that identifies and leverages the opportunities available to achieve results.

smart mob, indeed.

Posted by: David Wescott on 16 Jun 07

I would also like to know the answers to David's Questions. What was the process through which the government stalled operation? What resources are there to find out more about this and other similar incidents in China?

Posted by: C Z on 18 Jun 07

In the USA we often slip into our bubble and (over) anylize the adverse effects of tech on us. I had a conversation in the last few days with a grade school teacher and how cellphones have become ubiquitous amongst youth. Our language and social interaction might be heavily influenced(and in this conversation, adversely effected) by cellphones and tech et al.
I found it refreshing to read this more worldy and profound effect of technology!

Besides, school is boring in the states anyway;) its no wonder our kids can't concentrate.

Posted by: Tim on 19 Jun 07

if we just keep playing the game by the idea that we are many and they are few...they need us more than we need them, we will create the world we want...the power has always been collectively in the hands of the many and now we are exercising our most potent creativity...i luv it...peaceful and powerful at the same time. the 'smart mob' avoided a confrontation that could have gone horribly wrong and actually got a result...let us deprive the hungry powers that be and they will fade away...we just must persist at ignoring their mongering a little longer.
kisses to all.

Posted by: Michelle Buck on 21 Jun 07



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