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Controversy on copper and molybdenum smelting in Shifang, Sichuan, China


Demonstrators against plans to build a Molybdenum-Copper smelter in Shifang city (a city of 430 000 inhabitants, prefecture of Deyang in Sichuan province) gathered between July 1st and 4th in 2012 around streets and in front of local government institutions. Several hundreds of people, high-school and middle-school students had mobilized through micro-blog Weibo and QQ internet applications, marching against the enterprise Sichuan Hongda Group and asking local government for halting the project. Students carried slogans such as: ‘we can sacrifice ourselves, we belong to the post-1990 generation’; ‘Give us back the New Shifang’; ‘Hongda Mo-Co enterprise, get out of Shifang’; ‘To save Shifang, the city is united’ and ‘Protect Shifang’s environment, give us back our beautiful homeland’. Some demonstrators demanded the Local Secretary Li Chengjin to resign and abandon Shifang.

On July 2nd, before a group of demonstrators, Shifang’s major Xu Guangyong and vice major Zhang Daobin declared: ‘(1) From now on, we oblige the company to halt its operations, if the great majority of the masses do not understand the project, do not support it, then it should not operate. (2) We are to prepare a working group, who will be sent to towns, enterprises, schools, villages and communities to listen to people’s opinions on this subject. After that, the city government will publish its results and will reach a compromise on the issue, compromise which will be communicated through the media to all citizens.’ However, not being satisfied with this statements, people kept on raising their claims at the city centre, students and workers stopped their activities, about a total of twenty thousand people went on protesting.

There were violent crashes between police and demonstrators, police using tear-gas and stun grenades, 13 people being injured, 27 arrested and some public infrastructure damaged. On July 3rd protests continued reaching thirty-to-forty thousand demonstrators, police closing the access to the governmental institutions. At night 21 of the arrested were released, whereas 3 of the arrested and other 3 arrested people were still retained with criminal and administrative charges, respectively. During subsequent days, some demonstrators asked for the release of the remaining 6 arrested, and the situation finally calmed down on July 5th.

The project had been approved by Sichuan Province’s Development and Reform Commission and China’s Ministry of Environment (among several other administrative bodies which had commissioned the project), total annual output of 40,000 tons of Molybdenum and 400,000 tons of copper were expected for this projected plant. Shifang city had previously been affected by the earthquake in 2008 that registered above five Richter-points at this place, causing important human-life losses and infrastructure damage. The Molybdenum-Copper project was presented then as a key investment to relief the economic situation in the area, however people in Shifang did not trust its environmental impact assessment reports: there was an extended social concern about the lack of transparency of the whole environmental assessment process, since its results had been only partially published.. Moreover, Molybdenum and Copper would be supplied from mines located in Tibet-Xizang Autonomous region and other Western provinces of China. To sum up, popular resistance in Shifang became a fight for the environmental precautionary principle that its people did understand as essential to safeguard their basic livelihood conditions.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Controversy on copper and molybdenum smelting in Shifang, Sichuan, China
State or province:Shichuan
Location of conflict:Shifang - Northwest area within the Economic Development Zone in Shifang
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict: 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Mineral processing
Metal refineries
Specific commodities:Molybdenum

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

Total annual output of 40,000 tons of Molybdenum and 400,000 tons of copper were expected for this projected plan

People in Shifang argued that, as the project would be located in a seismic zone, public health environmental risks would be thus much higher due to increased likelihood of toxic by-product delivery into the environment.

Project area:223
Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:26/06/2012
Company names or state enterprises:Sichuan Hongda Group (四川宏达股份有限公司) from China
Relevant government actors:Shifang city local government

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Neighbours/citizens/communities
Students (high-school and middle-school)
Forms of mobilization:Street protest/marches

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsIndustrial waste
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Militarization and increased police presence


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Repression
Violent targeting of activists
Project cancelled
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Yes, although not without suffering by local people
Why? The project was finally stopped by mass mobilization pressing local authorities, who finally accepted to halt the project, but there were detentions, injured demonstrators.

Sources and Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Local Governments and Policy Responses: The Case of Shifang Protest by Hejin Wang. A thesis presented to the University of Waterloo in fulfilment of the thesis requirement for the degree of Master of Arts in Political Science. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, 2013. © Hejin Wang 2013.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[2] 群体性事件的情感社会学分析—以什邡钼铜项目事件为例。 孙静。2013。

Wikipedia account in English

Anti-pollution protesters halt construction of copper plant in China. Construction of a molybdenum copper plant temporarily stopped after thousands protest in Shifang, south-west China (The Guardian)

[4] Article in The Guardian

[3] Wikipedia in Chinese年什邡市反对钼铜项目事件.

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Last update18/10/2016