Pupils protest over food price rises

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 November, 2010, 12:00am

More than a thousand pupils at a high school in Liupanshui , Guizhou , stormed their canteen after it raised food prices, in the latest display of public discontent over runaway inflation.

Children at the No 2 middle school found the price of a bottle of boiled water had been raised from 70 fen to one yuan (HK$1.16) on Monday. The price of each dish rose 50 fen and rice and bread prices also rose.

The pupils rushed to the canteen at 10pm after their evening study session.

Liupanshui government spokesman Yuan Guozhong , who blamed the price increases on soaring vegetable prices, said: 'There are some students from low-income families and they felt strongly about the price increases. Some students turned very emotional during the process and started vandalising the canteen.'

Photographs from the mainland media show a chaotic scene, with canteen doors smashed and shattered glass.

The prices of cotton, sugar, garlic, cabbage, green beans and pork have started to fall but mainlanders have not forgotten the impact of recent higher prices.

The canteen, the running of which is subcontracted to a private company, had raised its prices at the start of the term but it applied to increase prices again, saying vegetable prices had risen by more than a third.

Teachers were aware of the brewing discontent among pupils and saw some protest posters on the campus but did not expect the situation to boil over so quickly or that so many children - a quarter of those enrolled at the school - would join the protest.

'Students calmed down that night after persuasion from school authorities,' Yuan said yesterday. 'We arranged for a company to provide cheaper food the next day and the canteen since then.'

The price increase which triggered the protest has been scrapped and the municipal government is looking into ways to control prices.

'The municipal government had a meeting on Wednesday and we are trying to figure out tentative measures to help students cope when the vegetable price is so high,' Yuan said. He said the measures would included arranging for slaughterhouses and wholesale markets to supply pork and vegetables directly to schools, cutting out dealers' profits.

Academics have warned that rising inflation could affect social stability, and the school protest shows just how easily that can happen.

Guo Yushan , director of the Transition Institute, a Beijing-based NGO, said the weak and poor in society were most sensitive to inflation because their limited purchasing power meant that it had a bigger impact on their quality of life. In an undemocratic society, inflation might affect social stability, but 'nobody could tell for sure how bad it could be'.

Beijing has taken various steps in the past week to increase supplies of food and energy.

It has said it will resort to price controls if necessary.

The State Council last week issued directives to tackle rising prices for food and raw materials by ensuring their supply while helping low-income groups to better cope with soaring costs.

Rising fears

Anger over food prices had been growing at the school for some time

The price of a bottle of boiled water had been raised from 70 fen to, in yuan: 1