The masked artist protesters in a polluted city of China Favorite 



Nov 11 2016


Chengdu, China

In the south-western city of Chengdu, by all accounts a city on the edge coping with heavy pollution but also with authorities scrambling to put a lid on simmering discontent. That night police detained a number of artists who managed to stage a silent demonstration, while wearing face masks.

The BBC spoke to one of the artists, who said the protest was planned with very little notice over the messaging app WeChat. “Chengdu’s air pollution is really severe, I've been feeling unwell. I cough all the time. [I thought] we want to take some action, we should stand up,” he said.

The artists decided they wanted to express their feelings about the pollution and agreed to walk around the city centre while wearing face masks as “there is no regulation that bans citizens from walking while wearing masks”. However, when they stopped to take a break at a small plaza, they were questioned by nearby policemen. “Policemen asked us to leave. But we said it's not illegal to sit here. We didn't break any regulations,” he said.

According to the artist, the situation escalated quickly as the protesters and police began arguing, attracting the attention of passers-by. The artists estimated at least another 20 police officers showed up. The stand-off ended 10 minutes later when eight of the artists were arrested along with at least one passer-by.
"Currently we will keep a low profile. It's hard to say if we will hold events or not in the future. But I'm sure that we will continue to keep an eye on Chengdu's air pollution and environment," he said. Accounts of the protest quickly spread online in China, attracting widespread sympathy for the artists. Eventually, on Tuesday morning the state-run People's Daily ran a commentary acknowledging that air quality in Chengdu was "the public's most talked about the topic", but defended the local government. Chengdu authorities have said they would take serious steps to combat the pollution in the area.

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