The aftermath of the Shifang protest continues to ferment on the Internet. Among the protesters were many high school students, who have been hailed by a group of opinion leaders. Netizens even cheered those young protesters for "firing the first shot."
The controversial heavy metal refinery project was canceled after a large-scale protest that saw the public in confrontation with the police. The hasty approval process, as well as lack of thorough communication with the public, deserves thorough reflection from the government.
However, the process of forcing the project to be halted isn't necessarily perfect. The cities of Xiamen and Dalian have also seen cancellation or relocation of risky chemical projects after public protests.
Those processes were much less intense than Shifang's. In the earlier two cases, there were no reports of young protesters' participation.
A large number of underage students rushed to the Shifang protest scene to support a demand made by adults. It is a relief to see there were no serious injuries or deaths.
Nevertheless, the participation of young demonstrators should not be encouraged. They should be kept out of mass protests and especially political conflicts.
The underage group, immature but passionate, and free of family burdens and social pressure, can easily be misguided by movements initiated by adults. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), red guards, mainly consisting of high school students, showed a tendency to violence and cruelty.
Their impulses and vulnerability to manipulation were fully displayed during that decade. In every normal peaceful country, high school students should focus on school work. It is a revolutionary instinct to urge young students to join a mass protest.
The protest in Shifang highlights the urgency of adjusting the decision-making process in China. Though violence broke out, it was a conflict caused by environmental concerns, and was obviously not a revolution. Similar concerns are common in many other countries.
Some people are attempting to politicize this incident, hinting that it was a campaign against local government authorities.
They try to portray it as being more than just the fate of a molybdenum copper plant, saying it was an anti-government protest victory. Now overseas Chinese dissidents and even media backed by the Falun Gong are showing their interest in Shifang.
The protest has exposed problems in the system, but solving these problems should not be subject to external disturbances. It is a chance to form social rationality.
We hope that influential opinion leaders can represent the real public interests.