'Jasmine' Call Enlists Campuses

China’s well-known universities are now being designated as sites for anti-government rallies.

pekinguniversity305.jpg Peking University campus, May 17, 2007.

The online activists behind China’s weekly “Jasmine” rallies have for the first time called for protests against Communist Party rule to take place at college campuses in the nation’s capital.

The organizers, who have never been identified, announced Tuesday on Chinese microblogging sites that 20 college campuses in Beijing had been designated as meeting places for peaceful “strolls” following popular uprisings that have spread through the Middle East in recent months.

Jasmine strolls have occurred on the last four Sundays in major metropolitan areas around China, and organizers have said they would not end calls for protests until the government listens to demands for political reform.

The sites included campuses such as Renmin University, Beijing Jiaotong University, and the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, as well as Peking University and Tsinghua University—the schools from which students organized the failed Tiananmen Square pro-democracy rally of 1989.

Organizers also urged residents in the southern city of Shenzhen, neighboring Hong Kong, to take part in a “100 Kilometer Walk” protest across the entire metropolitan region.

They said supporting protests would be held in a total of 59 cities around the world this Sunday, including Hong Kong, Taipei, Kaohsiung, New York, Calgary, and Singapore.

Reaction mixed

Reaction to the calls to protest over the last four weeks has been mixed, with small turnouts facing a large security presence at designated sites. Police have also rounded up several dissidents and rights activists suspected of involvement with the protests.

One Shenzhen-based rights activist surnamed Cui said he was concerned that it might be too early to call for mass protests against the government.

“Many of my friends say now is not a good time to launch this kind of revolution, because it can lead to unpredictable difficulties, troubles, or harm against them.”

But the online organizers maintain that pressure from the government has only raised awareness of the protests both inside and outside of China.

A Beijing-based netizen surnamed Zhang said he expects the protests to gain followers as they shed light on more examples of government inefficiency.

“More and more people will take part in the stroll, I think. For example, the southern city of Nanjing [has plans to] begin cutting down Chinese parasol trees along the road. The citizens there might take a stroll to protest,” he said.

“The police crackdown and official propaganda only work against the government. The people around me didn’t used to know what a ‘stroll’ was. But now they are very interested, asking me what it means and seeking information themselves by scaling the Great Firewall,” he said, referring to China’s system of Internet blocks and filters.

Hubei-based rights activist Yao Lifa said that whatever the motivation, Jasmine activists have been acting within their rights according to Chinese law.

“The slogans of Jasmine rallies, [calling for] political reform, the protection of human rights, and basic freedoms, are completely in line with China’s Constitution and with those slogans advocated by the Chinese Communists [when they took power] around 1949.”

Promises of reform

Meanwhile, China's annual meeting of parliament, the National People's Congress, closed in Beijing on Monday amid further promises of political reform and warnings over corruption from top leaders.

But Premier Wen Jiabao ruled out political upheaval of the kind recently seen in the Middle East, indicating that reforms would take place under the aegis of the ruling Communist Party.

Wen, 69, who is nearly at the end of his eight-year tenure, has widely been regarded as a reformer, but has stopped short of calling for any major changes to the existing political system.

China's Communist Party faces thousands of mass protests a year across the country, often related to allegations of official wrongdoing, but usually with a local focus.

Protesters and petitioners repeatedly complain of forced evictions from their homes, the sale of their farmland without compensation, and mistreatment by law enforcement agencies.

Rights activists have recently noticed an increase in pro-government acts of propaganda and hacking targeting dissidents on sites including Twitter, Facebook, and Gmail. 

Reported by Xin Yu for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated by Ping Chen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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