In riot-torn town, haves and have-nots

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 June, 2011, 12:00am


Limousines, bird's nest desserts, fine wine, five-star hotels and affluent factory owners appear to have little in common with hundreds of thousands of migrant workers and blue jeans sweatshops. But they are key pieces in the jigsaw of riots rocking Xintang, near Guangzhou.

Dadun village in Xintang - the 'blue jeans capital of the world', supplying one in every two pairs to the United States - saw havoc with tens of thousands of rioters taking to the streets, smashing and burning police cars and besieging government offices for three days until Sunday. Authorities put the town under curfew on Monday night to restore order.

The trigger was the alleged abuse of a 20-year-old pregnant migrant from Sichuan hawking outside a supermarket, who was reportedly pushed to the ground by security guards demanding money. A young man who attempted to stop the guard was severely beaten.

The roots of it all were sown a few years ago, when jeans makers and suppliers enticed an inflow of migrant workers largely from Sichuan. The newcomers found it tough to make ends meet, while many factory owners rose to riches on thriving exports.

Four years ago, when a South China Morning Post reporter visited one of Xintang's two five-star hotels, it was packed with Audis, Mercedes limos and Porsche sports cars. A business lunch at the hotel ran to 10 courses.

Yet outside the hotel, the reporter was warned against carrying any bags, even plastic ones, when strolling along the road. Motorbike riders, usually migrants, were prone to snatching them from passersby.

When seeking blame for the riots, one cannot ignore the polarisation of the rich and the poor.