Last update:

Opposing paraxylene (PX) plant in the PetroChina 10 Million tons/year Refinery, Kunming, Yunnan, China

Large, peaceful civic demonstration in May 2013 against a potentially polluting PX chemical plant slated for construction in Kunming.


May 2013 peaceful protest in Kunming was the first demonstration against a polluting PX chemical plant slated for construction inside Kunming’s city limits. [1].  Nearly 2000 people participated in the well-organized protest, and the crowd met zero resistance from the 200+ police and public security officers sent to the site to maintain order. For more than three hours, citizens wore “No PX” face masks and paraded around the protest site waving banners and posters sporting slogans like “PX project, get out of Kunming” and “I want green!” Different from other protests in China, the organizers divided the site into teach-in zones where crowds of hundreds could listen to those who had a message to deliver. In the end, no arrests were made and there were zero scuffles between protesters or with the police. -----In January of this year 2013, China’s central government passed approval for a 10mn ton PetroChina oil refinery located in the Caopu Industrial Zone near Anning, a satellite city 40km west of downtown Kunming. The refinery was planned in 2008 and is scheduled for opening in 2018.Upon operation, the plant would produce an annual output of 200 billion RMB, equivalent to 20% of the entire provincial GDP. For the first five years, the oil-refining project was taken forward in a closed-door manner by PetroChina and the central and local governments. After preparation work of siting and relocation, PetroChina began its construction in 2010. Two years later the project’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) report was approved by the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP).[2] Government officials were debating an additional plant that processes a chemical named paraxylene, a by-product of the oil refining process.  More commonly known as PX, the chemical is used in the plastics and textiles industries. Long-term indirect exposure to PX is shown to cause cancer in adults and physical development problems in children. Direct exposure in large quantities is fatal. The proposed PX plant site sits directly in the path of westerly wind patterns that feed Kunming, a rapidly urbanizing metropolis of 7mn, with air and rainwater. On Friday, May 3, 2013, messages announcing the protest went viral Chinese social media sites Weixin (WeChat) and Weibo. //“Oppose Kunming’s PX project: Join at 13:30 on May 4 at Nanping Square for a civil march. Quietly anticipate no disputes, no shutting down streets, no barring of doors, no garbage, civil expression!” //At the start of the protest, four organized teach-in sites, spread out across the Nanping Square protest zone, began to draw crowds of 50 to 100 participants and listeners. The zone, approximately the size of a football field, was loosely surrounded by more than 100 uniformed policemen dressed in their standard uniforms. None of the security forces onsite wore riot gear or carried batons. At the teach-in sites, students from local universities and other organizers discussed the dangers of PX and passed out face masks marked with “No PX in Kunming.” They also emphasized the lack of public participation in the oil refinery’s approval process and absence of public disclosure of the project’s Environmental Impact Assessments by PetroChina – both measures are required by China’s environmental regulation legal processes.  -----Around the world, PX processing plants can be found in downtown Singapore, across the Hudson from New York City, and within London’s city limits, but effective environmental regulations in Singapore, the US, and the UK tightly monitor PX production so much so that it is not known as a major environmental threat in the developed world. The leading cause of death in China is cancer – an indicator of the country’s  environmental conditions, and in recent years anti-PX demonstrations have formed the battle cry of white collar urbanites against China’s deteriorating urban environment. Since 2007 protests in Xiamen, Dalian, and Ningbo, all of which attracted thousands of protesters (and all larger than Kunming’s protest) somewhat successfully forced city governments to shut down PX refineries or move them far outside their city’s boundaries[3].  On May 4, a similar protest scheduled for Chengdu was quashed by local security forces before it could moblize.  Kunming residents were pessimistic that their PX refinery will be cancelled citing Kunming’s weak power status on China’s urban hierarchy and location on China’s border frontier which suggests less attention and benevolence from China’s central leadership in Beijing. The demonstration gathered steam at 2:00pm when attendance at the teach-in sites grew too large – spontaneity then served as the event’s core driver. ----Protesters unveiled black and white posters and leaflets with slogans such as “PX Project, Get Out!”and “I Love Kunming!” Spontaneous chants of “We Want Green! We Want a Spring City” and “Chemical plant, get out of Kunming” began to rise in chorus and were greeted with cheers and applause. Someone unveiled a long red banner with these words in white: Anning oil refinery, don’t put our home into environmental hell! The crowd rallied around the banner and took it on a concerted march around the protest site. At this point there were more than 1000 people on the square and files of policemen started to move through the masses. Dalian’s PX problem was similar to Kunming’s. in the northeastern port city's PX plant in 2011 cracks began to appear in the man-made sea wall that separated the refinery from the ocean creating a potential disaster where millions of tons of PX could have leaked into Dalian’s coastal waters. In August 2011, 12000 protesters took to the streets and the city mayor promised to move the refinery.  Over the past five years, the city has dealt with huge oil leaks, massive industrial explosions, and all seafood coming out of its surrounding waters is polluted. Mixing tourism and petroleum is a certain recipe for disaster, especially in China. The #2 contributor to Yunnan’s economy is tourism (falling behind the declining tobacco industry) and most tourists to Yunnan pass through the City of Eternal Spring, Kunming’s other name. Long known for its pristine blue skies, year-round Mediterranean climate, and clean air, the city offers respite to those who visit from the smog-choked skies of China’s north. But like Dalian, quality of life in Kunming may be on the down turn with the reshuffling of Kunming’s economy. Yunnan itself is not well endowed in oil or natural gas, but soon a 2800km pipeline will be completed to send natural gas and crude oil from Myanmar’s coast into China. The terminus of this USD 2.5bn state-sponsored project is located in Anning’s Caopu Industrial zone – Kunming’s backyard.  -----At the demonstration in May 2013, at 2:15pm protesters rolled out another long banner, this time white with black letters. The police, who earlier voiced that the red banner was too provocative, sent a small troop to inspect the white banner which read “Give me back beautiful Kunming! We want to survive! We want to be healthy! PX project, get out of Kunming!” Protesters rushed to engage with the police, asking whether or not the banner passed muster. With a supportive and encouraging nod from a police captain, the crowd burst into applause and paraded the banner around the square. Shortly afterward, more than 150 policemen quietly moved in to encircle the protest zone. Protesters and onlookers were free to move in and out of the zone brushing shoulders with the police forces – at this point the zone was still entirely porous. The banner carriers caught wind of the security force’s change in tactics and smoothly marched straight through the line of police. The police moved away without resistance only to regain formation after the parade passed through. At this point, approximately one hour into the protest, it was clear that as long as the crowd and police worked in tandem to preserve a non-violent and non-antagonistic atmosphere, this protest would go off without a hitch.  -----From 2:30pm to 3:30pm, the high point of the protest, approximately 2000 people gathered inside of the protest zone now clearly demarcated by a ring of police. Around 3:00pm, the police changed tactics once again to discourage newcomers from entering the zone.  At times, new groups of protesters broke through the lines greeted by cheers. Chanting continued, banners and posters paraded the inner perimeter. Volunteers passed out bottles of water and media created spaces for photo opportunities. A five-year old child seized the moment and by holding high a “No PX” poster, became an instant media star. At two-plus hours, the demonstration peaked. People who came to get out their message did just that. They successfully gained media coverage and reached a goal of pulling off the city’s first large-scale protest in a major commercial area in recent memory. By 4pm the police lines were once again entirely porous and the protest zone looked much like it did when it started – four teach-in areas with core crowds of 50 to 100.   -----Xinhua news service reported on the protest along with local Kunming and Yunnan media outlets. However, the day after, with exception of the Xinhua report[4], all other domestic Chinese news outlets pulled their reports and links to most reports on Chinese language websites were blocked. The BBC, AP, Reuters, and Hong Kong’s Phoenix media all ran stories on the protest[5][6]. Some media outlets reported cell phone service disruption at the protest zone. No organization or local NGO announced themselves as the protest organizer and no names of organizations have been named by media outlets. Protesters awaited public announcement from the city or provincial government on the status of the PX plant. They called for greater transparency in the approval process and disclosure of the project’s environmental assessment.  [7]  ---- From 4 May 2013 onwards, the keywords ‘Kunming’ and ‘PX’ were blocked on Sina Weibo, one of the most influential social media platforms in China. Tweets, photos, and videos uploaded by citizens about the controversy and the street protest in particular were quickly deleted. Furthermore, the local government also pressured state-owned enterprises and local universities to persuade their employees/students to sign a promise to refrain from participating in any protests, spreading any relevant information, and giving any public speeches, a promise that extended to family members and relatives.[8] However, these attempts to contain public opinion backfired.They aggravated citizens’ distrust in the local government, and triggered a second protest on 16 May 2013, in which over 1,000 citizens gathered in front of the provincial government to demonstrate their opposition.This time the protest reportedly disrupted traffic and led to police arrests. In response, Mayor Li promised to restart public consultation and make a final decision based on the opinion of the majority of Kunming citizens.[9][16][17] ----In March 2015, it was revealed that the scope of PetroChina’s refinery project in Yunnan had secretly been expanded.[10] In April, the Ministry of Environmental Protection sent a team to Yunnan to investigate, and found out that not only had the oil-refining capacity been increased substantially (reportedly by 30%) but also that pollution-intensive refining devices had been added which significantly increased safety risks to the surrounding environment. However, none of these changes went through any EIA-related approval processes.Under pressure, PetroChina quickly published the EIA report of the expanded project for public participation. Afraid that public opinion would be manipulated again, Green Kunming initiated its own public consultation survey through Wechat, a popular social media platform developed by Tencent, Inc.; 11,584 responses were collected, over 95% of which opposed the expansion plan of the construction. Green Kunming conveyed the survey result to the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Central Discipline Inspection Commission. On 18 June, the Ministry of Environmental Protection issued a penalty against PetroChina. Although PetroChina had the right to apply for a hearing regarding the penalty, the company declined to do so. On 25 August 2015, the Ministry of Environmental Protection called off PetroChina’s refinery project in Yunnan and fined the company 200,000 RMB on the grounds of illegal construction without the approval of the environmental impact assessment report.[2]  ---- In May 2017, PetroChina started the trial operation of its Kunming refinery project[11]. Based on the memorandum signed in 2011, Saudi Arabia's Aramco will sign the final contract to invest in the production and the gas pipeline slices through Myanmar.[12][13]  

Basic Data
Name of conflict:Opposing paraxylene (PX) plant in the PetroChina 10 Million tons/year Refinery, Kunming, Yunnan, China
State or province:Yunnan
Location of conflict:Caopu, Anning, Kunming
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Chemical industries
Oil and gas refining
Specific commodities:PX - paraxylene, gasoline
Chemical products
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The project plans annual oil refining 10 million tons. Allegedly completed will be able to meet 53% of the demand for oil in Yunnan. The project feasibility study report was approved by the state in January 2013 and plans to produce 1 million tons of terephthalic acid (PTA) and 650,000 tons of p-xylene (PX) with an investment of more than 20 billion yuan. [14]

Project area:240
Level of Investment for the conflictive project3,000,000,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:more than 7 million
Start of the conflict:04/05/2013
End of the conflict:16/05/2013
Company names or state enterprises:China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) from China - Yunnan Yuntianhua Petrochemical Company Limited
Relevant government actors:Kunming Municipal Government, Yunnan
International and Finance InstitutionsSaudi Aramco from Saudi Arabia - 39%
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:- Green watershed(NGO)
- Green Kunming(NGO)
- Friends of Nature
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Landless peasants
Elderly and Children
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Land dispossession
Potential: Loss of landscape/sense of place, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors
Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The project is under construction
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[2]Xiaoyi Sun, Ronggui Huang & Ngai-Ming Yip (2017) Dynamic Political Opportunities and Environmental Forces Linking up: A Case Study of AntiPX Contention in Kunming, Journal of Contemporary China, 26:106, 536-548, DOI:

[click to view]

[1]Anatomy of a Protest: Kunming citizens voice concern over chemical plant
[click to view]

[3]China: Mass protests challenge polluters
[click to view]

[4]昆明称PX项目尚在规划研究中 市民呼吁公开信息
[click to view]

[click to view]

[6]昆明:PX项目尚在规划研究中 并未确定建设
[click to view]

[7]2013年昆明市反对PX项目事件 Kunming against PX project events in 2013
[click to view]

[8]暗施压?昆明再爆反pX厂怒火’ [‘Covert pressure? Another outburst of protest against PX plant in Kunming], China Times, (17 may 2013)
[click to view]

[9]‘昆明民众上街抗议化工项目,市长答应下马’ [‘Kunming citizens took to streets to protest against a chemical plant, major promised to halt the project’], VOA China, 17 may 2013)
[click to view]

[10]环保组织呼吁中石油云南炼油项目停止施工 ‘Kunming’s oil refinery project is accused of lack of public participation in environmental impact assessment and should be halted’
[click to view]

[click to view]

[12]Saudi Aramco to supply crude to new PetroChina refinery
[click to view]

[click to view]

[14] 民众再示威反PX,昆明市长鞠躬道歉
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[15]MV《我们更懂这个城市——昆明》"We understand the city more - Kunming"

by 司徒骏文 蒲炫燃 昆明反PX
[click to view]

[16]云南新闻联播《云南昆明市正义路出现人群聚集 市中心交通一度中断》 5月16日,数以千计昆明市民再次走上昆明街头群体散步,反对中石油PX炼化项目。
[click to view]

[click to view]

Other comments:There is an MV published on Youtube on 16 May 2013, the same day when people are on street protests, titled as "We understand the city more - Kunming".[15]
Meta information
Contributor:EnvJustice, ICTA-UAB
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2783
Legal notice / Aviso legal
We use cookies for statistical purposes and to improve our services. By clicking "Accept cookies" you consent to place cookies when visiting the website. For more information, and to find out how to change the configuration of cookies, please read our cookie policy. Utilizamos cookies para realizar el análisis de la navegación de los usuarios y mejorar nuestros servicios. Al pulsar "Accept cookies" consiente dichas cookies. Puede obtener más información, o bien conocer cómo cambiar la configuración, pulsando en más información.