The demonstrations in Ningbo began on 24 October 2012, when about 200 villagers began petitioning over environmental concerns over a planned chemical plant and blocked traffic in the streets, the local government said . In a statement, the Zhenhai district government condemned those it blamed for organizing sit-ins and blocking roads in Ningbo but insisted that public sentiment would be taken into consideration before the start of construction. “Detailed information will be published when environmental reviews are implemented, and public opinions on the project will be heeded,” the statement said .
The protests grew over the weekend as thousands of students and middle-class residents converged on a downtown square carrying handmade banners and wearing surgical masks painted with skull and bones . Photographs of the weekend demonstrations, many taken by cellphone, appeared to show riot police officers swinging batons as they chased protesters or beat those who had fallen to the ground. Censors worked quickly to delete images and witnesses’ accounts posted on Sina Weibo, China’s popular microblogging service. The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, an organization based in Hong Kong, said 10 people were injured after the police fired tear gas and moved to break up the protests, which took place in Tianyi Square in downtown Ningbo .
By Sunday, the authorities had promised “resolutely not to go ahead with the PX project,” according to a statement published on the local Zhenhai district government website and printed in the Ningbo Daily.
The city of Ningbo—a prosperous port of 3.4 million people, near Shanghai—is hardly one of China’s cancer villages, the kind contributing to the thousands of pollution-related protests that happen each year in China. The mostly middle-class protestors were not rising up because of past harms, but for fear of of potential health risks, should the planned facility to manufacture the chemical paraxylene, or PX, leak toxins into surrounding rivers and coastal waters .
One protestor, whose Weibo (a Chinese micro-blog) account lists his name as Liu Jimi, wrote online of another region in Zhejiang province that he believes has been contaminated by chemical factories. Liu holds this up as a cautionary tale of what he doesn’t want to happen in his hometown: “Outside the Zhoushan fishing zone, which once was rich in seafood, now there is nothing. The sick people are diagnosed more and more frequently with cancer, and many people can smell the filth in the water as they fall asleep. But now the government wants to build more chemical plants near us [in Ningbo], as the taxes brought in through various other private industries seem not to satisfy them."  Ma Jun, an environmental activist in Beijing, applauded the government’s decision to halt the project but hoped the weekend of unrest would convince Chinese leaders that soliciting public opinion on industrial development is in their best interest, especially given how much money is wasted when such projects are canceled mid-way. “We’ve seen the same pattern over and over again,” said Mr. Ma, the director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs. “Ignoring public concerns leads to confrontation. We can’t resolve all our environmental issues through street action. The cost is just too high."