The protestor's main concern was the fear that they would be poisoned by toxic chemicals escaping from the factory, a fear brought on by growing environmental worries expressed by many Chinese citizens in recent years.
The Shifang protest is one of a sequence of recent demonstrations in China against the perceived toxic pollution of the environment by factories, but also they have been about the corruption of local government, and land-grabbing by local officials in the name of industrial development.
The three day protests turned to riots yesterday when protestors threw bricks and stones at police and government officials after police took away 27 ‘'suspected criminals''. According to a report from Reuters today, 21 of those have been released after a mass sit-down was held outside a government building demanding their immediate release.
Pictures and videos on the internet show thousands of people on the streets of Shifang apparently pitted against lines of heavily armed riot police with batons and shields. Reports suggest that police used excessive force on protestors firing tear gas and indiscriminately beating up ordinary people.
The BBC has reported that 13 people were injured when police dispersed the crowd.
In an unusual move for Chinese authorities, construction on the site of the factory has been halted due to the unrest in the city, and government officials said they would not restart building ‘'until the majority of people support[ed] it".
Chinese microblogs have been openly critical of government actions in Shifang in recent days. China's most famous blogger, Han Han, addressing Shifang government officials wrote: The best of you emigrate, the worst of you are shot, but none of you actually live in the pollution. Only ordinary people live there.
Another blogger was more direct and succinct, "The government has repeatedly squandered the people's patience. It is time for us to be independent."