The vast majority of public disturbances that have made it into the domestic and foreign press in the past few years have been sparked by anger over expropriation of land by local officials, pollution, and corruption.
China's Public Security Ministry on Thursday said the number of incidents including public order disturbances, obstructions of justice and mob gatherings reached 87,000 in 2005 - up more than six percent from the previous year. Ministry spokesman Wu Heping told reporters in Beijing that this is cause for concern among the communist leadership.
"Demands by masses have emerged due to rapid economic and social development," he said. "Communist Party committees and governments at all levels attach a high degree of importance to this problem."
Following decades of chaos during Mao Zedong's rule over China, public stability has been among the top priorities of the communist leadership.
In 1989, then-Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping put down pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square with brutal force. Deng was later quoted as saying he feared that the demonstrations would lead to widespread disorder.
President Hu Jintao took office in 2003 with a pledge to work for a more harmonious society, but the latest figures suggest that vision has been slow to appear.
Analysts say the tally of 87,000 disturbances is probably understated. Chinese authorities continue to suppress coverage of most protests, especially ones that have involved the use of force by authorities or their proxies to smash uprisings.
Among the incidents gaining wide international attention was a crackdown last month by police at Dongzhou village in southern China's Guangdong province. Agents there fired into a crowd of demonstrators and killed a number of people. The demonstrators had been protesting the authorities' failure to compensate them for land that was taken to build a power facility.
There have been a number of other incidents in recent years in which police - or in some cases thugs hired by the authorities - have used lethal force to crush public demonstrations.