06/14/2011 11:12 am ET Updated Aug 14, 2011

China Migrant Worker Protests A 'Confluence Of Rage And Technology'

When local authorities fanned out this week into villages and factory towns around Guangzhou, they were not hunting criminals or political agitators. They were racing to deliver their vision of the truth--to "clarify the rumor about a clash between security personnel and a pregnant street vendor," as the state press put it.

The town of Zengcheng had erupted in protests, with hundreds of migrant workers tipping over police cars, smashing windows, and torching government buildings. Police responded with tear gas and armored vehicles. It began on Friday evening, when Wang Lianmei, a twenty-year-old pregnant street vendor, and her husband, Tang Xuecai, had a run-in with security personnel who suspected that the couple had "illegally occupied the village's road to sell goods," according to the China Daily, a state-run newspaper. Word spread that police had injured the expectant mother and killed her husband, and by the middle of the night a crowd was pelting police with stones and bricks. By Saturday morning, the Party chief Xu Zhibiao had visited Wang at the hospital, and "brought a basket of fruit," the state media pointed out. "Wang and her fetus remained intact," the mayor declared.