The first PX incident began in the wake of plans by the Xianglu Tenglong Aromatic PX (Xiamen) Co. Ltd. to construct a PX plant in the Haicang District of Xiamen, Fujian. The PX project in Haicang was approved by the State Council in February 2004, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) passed the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report in 2005, and the State Department and Reform Committee approved the application in July 2006 (Zhu 2007).
However, citizen environmentalists were hard at work to investigate the issue and to gather necessary media, academic and governmental support to oppose the plant’s construction owing to health and environmental concerns. Zhao Yufen, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and member of the China People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) played a key role ensuring that the central authorities in Beijing took notice of the PX issue by enlisting “105 top scientists and veteran officials to sign her submission [to the CPCC]: “A Proposal Recommending the Relocation of The Xiamen Haicang PX Project” (Ansfield 2013). In the proposal, Zhao and her co-authors boldly “questioned the process by which the PX project [had] passed its original environmental impact assessment in 2005 and criticized the fact that [the report] had not been released to the public” (ibid).
After Zhao’s proposal was adopted as a “top recommendation” by the CPPCC in March 2007, “the influential China Youth Daily and the China Business Journal interviewed Zhao and brought her proposal national attention online” (Ansfield 2013). Local media coverage of the controversy eventually attracted journalists from other parts of the country to visit Haicang. Escalating public concerns over the PX project were rapidly disseminated through cell phone text messaging and other forms of social media such as blogs and bulletin board systems (BBS), which culminated in a street protest on 1 June, 2007 that was attended by 8000-10,000 local residents (ibid).
The subsequent mass public "stroll" (an Internet code word for peaceful protests in China) amongst the residents of Xiamen did not lead to an immediate crackdown on the PX protest, though the Xiamen Public Security Bureau "did try to block the cell phone campaign and the city hall did send out warnings against the public demonstration..." (Yu & Zeng 2010). A few days later, Pan Yue, then Deputy Director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), "called for an independent environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the plant as well as of Xiamen's urban development plans (ibid). Pan also suggested that the relevant parties should comply with recently announced regulations on environmental impact assessments that require a public consultation process and the release of relevant information to the public (Civic China, 28 January 2008).
Six months later, on 5 December 2007, a 14-page review report of the strategic EIA conducted by the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences was published on Xiamen Net, the local government's official website (Yu & Zeng 2010). The report "criticized the Xianglu Group's repeated emissions breaches and their disregard of requests since 2003 from the local environmental protection bureau to tackle [existing] problems. [...] The report pointed out serious flaws in a development scheme for Haicang that was pursuing the conflicting goals of industrialization and urbanization in such a small region (ibid). On 13 December 2007, "a hearing was held to [allow] the public to voice their opinions on the PX plant. One hundred representatives were selected (50 from the municipal People's Congress and Political Consultative Committee and 50 from the general public). 57 spoke at the hearing. 45 of the 49 public representatives opposed the project and 7 of the 8 government officials who did speak also opposed the project" (Martinsen 2007). In face of strong public opposition, the project was eventually relocated to the city of Zhangzhou, Fujian (Yu & Zeng 2010).