China Plays Down 'Jasmine' Protests

But a swift crackdown underlines Beijing's anxiety amid rising pro-democracy protests in the Middle East.
2011-02-21
Email story
Comment on this story
Share story
Print story
  • Print
  • Share
  • Comment
  • Email
china-protets-jasmine-305.gif
Police keep watch in Beijing amid online calls for a 'Jasmine Revolution,' Feb. 20, 2011.
AFP

Chinese official media on Monday moved to play down an attempt at nationwide coordinated protests around the country at the weekend, billed online as China's "Jasmine Revolution."

Styling the call for protests against the ruling Communist Party "performance art," the Global Times newspaper published an editorial in English sneering at Western media for expecting a revolution to happen in China.

Only a handful of protesters eventually showed up in response to an anonymous letter, which was circulating online last week calling for Chinese people to launch their own Jasmine Revolution, the name of the Tunisian freedom movement which sparked protests in Egypt and other Arab states.

"A few people in Beijing, Shanghai, and several other Chinese cities attempted to mimic the "Jasmine revolution" Sunday," the Global Times said in its editorial.

"Some in the West want China to become the next Egypt," the paper said. "This is simply impossible. China is huge and will always contain certain problems."

"But a few people chanting slogans or throwing jasmine flowers in the street will not slow the country's momentum," it said.

At odds

The public nonchalance of the newspaper, which is a sister paper to the ruling Communist Party mouthpiece, the People's Daily, appeared at odds, however, with the wide-scale crackdown on dissidents, civil rights lawyers, and political activists that took place across the country at the weekend.

Beijing-based rights lawyer Liu Anjun was detained on Saturday, and has not been seen since, according to an eyewitness.

The eyewitness, a woman surnamed Qiu, said the lawyer was encircled by six or seven attackers who arrived in a car without license plates.

"It was a white minibus without license plates," Qiu said. "Liu Anjun was beaten along with two of his colleagues. A young man from the local residential compound who got involved by telling them not to beat people up got beaten up himself."

She said the police then dragged all four men to a nearby basement.

"They took all of them down to a basement to interrogate them, then they took Liu Anjun away when they were done," Qiu said. "They let the other three people go."

"He managed to call me while he was in the basement ... I could hear him talking to the police and telling them that if they took him away without any documentation he would go on hunger strike in protest. I heard him say that."

She said she had heard nothing from Liu Anjun since Saturday.

Tight surveillance

Hangzhou-based opposition party activist Zhu Yufu said he and a group of fellow activists had been under tight surveillance throughout the weekend, lasting until Monday.

"I was taken ... by the state security police to Tonglu, a location 60 kilometers (37 miles) outside Hangzhou, where they kept me in a holiday resort until Sunday evening," Zhu said.

"They didn't let me go until about 9.00 p.m ... Things were very tense yesterday. It was probably because of the Jasmine event on Feb. 20. There are still people on duty watching me downstairs now, at least 10 people."

The nervousness in Beijing was also in evidence in comments by top law enforcement official Zhou Yongkang, who called for measure to "improve social stability" at the weekend.

Zhou's speech came a day after President Hu Jintao made a national call for officials to emphasize social "harmony."

Zhou told officials to "detect conflicts and problems in time" and "take forward-looking, active, and effective measures to improve social management."

Off-target

But Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Liu Shihui, who was in hospital with leg injuries after a beating by a group of unidentified men on Sunday, said Hu's message was off-target.

"I think this shows that the Chinese Communist Party is a fascist regime, if they can stoop to these sorts of tactics," Liu Shihui said from the Guangdong Provincial People's Hospital. "They should be ashamed of themselves in the eyes of the world."

"President Hu Jintao wants a harmonious society, but I think he has shamed his ancestors for eight generations back," he added.

In a show of force, the Chinese authorities staged a pre-emptive clampdown on Sunday following the online call for a revolution.
 
Aside from detaining activists, they disrupted text messaging services, and censored Internet postings about the protest call.

The call was first posted on the U.S.-based Chinese-language news website Boxun.com and circulated mainly on Twitter, which is blocked in China.

Blogger Yajun, in a post on the Granite Studio blog, said her generation of young people was unlikely to stage another movement like the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square which were suppressed by a bloody military crackdown.

"In the end, there were a lot of police and a handful of foreign correspondents," she wrote of the "Jasmine" event. "Unfortunately, somebody forgot to tell the protesters, because they didn’t show."

"Did anyone really think a couple of posts on Boxun was going to start a revolution?  Let’s make this clear: China is not Egypt."

'No national opposition'

She said that her generation are more concerned with improving their lives than with democracy and political change, and that protests in which people try to fight for their civil rights do not add up to a political movement.

"There is no national opposition strong enough and organized enough to brew a cup of jasmine tea, let alone lead a Jasmine Revolution," she wrote.

The independent Hong Kong-based Hsin Po newspaper agreed in an editorial on Monday, but warned that the ruling Communist Party is still under huge social pressure.

The paper said that China's use of economic growth as means to maintain social stability is facing a tremendous challenge, even if a Jasmine Revolution is not going to happen in China.

It said: "A popular uprising may also happen in China as, similar to Egypt, China has a considerable population of university graduates who are unemployed and a widening wealth gap."

China has heavily censored or blocked media reports and Internet searches about the unrest in the Middle East.

But while China is no stranger to social unrest, experts have also cited strong economic growth prospects and a fear of a return to the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution or the military crackdown of 1989 as strong factors inhibiting any mass popular opposition movement in China.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.