Why Wasn’t There a Chinese Spring?
Image Credit: Flickr (Keith Roper)

Why Wasn’t There a Chinese Spring?


It has now been two years since the self-immolation of the Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, provided the spark that set the Arab world aflame. A wave of protests spread throughout the region in quick succession and led to the overthrow of long ruling autocrats in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, and possibly Syria.

The collapse of regimes like Hosni Mubarak’s in Egypt, which many considered “an exemplar of…durable authoritarianism” was a salient reminder to many that such revolutions are “inherently unpredictable.” Before long some began to speculate that the protest movements might spread to authoritarian states outside the Arab world, including China. Indeed, the Chinese government was among those that feared the unrest would spread to China because, as one observer noted, China faced the same kind of “social and political tensions caused by rising inequality, injustice, and corruption” that plagued much of the Arab world on the eve of the uprisings.

Alas it was not to be as the Chinese government has proven far more durable than many of its counterparts in the Arab world. This inevitably raises the question of what factors differentiated the Chinese government from its Arab counterparts in places like Egypt?

Fortunately,in the more than two years since Mubarak fell, a number of theories have been advanced to explain the Arab Spring.

One set of explanations has centered on social and economic drivers. According to this reasoning, unrest in the region was driven by a highly discontented and mobilized society. Youth unemployment and official corruption enraged citizens throughout much of the Arab world and the diffusion of new communications technologies, particularly social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, enabled these individuals to channel these grievances into effective anti-regime collective action.

One shortcoming of this explanation is that the same sources of discontent and social media websites are available throughout the developing world, but successful revolutions are rare. In China, for example, official statistics suggest youth unemployment is low, but independent research has found that the problem may be large and growing, particularly among the type of young, urban and highly educated groups who have spearheaded many revolutions historically. Meanwhile, cross-national measures of corruption place China squarely between Tunisia and Egypt. Finally, Internet penetration rates also place China shoulder-to-shoulder with Tunisia and Egypt, and social media has increasingly appeared as a critical tool for mobilizing Chinese protestors in frequent “mass incidents,” and spreading news of sensitive topics, such as official corruption and public health threats posed by environmental pollution.

Steel Man
January 26, 2014 at 18:32

This is a typical article from a western journalist brainwashed by his own mediocre western education system and media. Young people organizing themselves through social media to riot and bring the government down is “progress”.

January 13, 2014 at 07:08

Just look at Egypt, does that help the country. No it did not but instead throw the country into unrest and riot. Similarly look at Syria, are you better off now. It is even worst than Egypt.

It would be stupid for anyone to follow a cause blindly without looking at the after effect that is even worst than after the change.

China is moving at a rapid speed toward capitalism that even a Chinese Spring will not be able to catch up with them but instead slow down that process and economy.

Revolution leeds to poverty
August 20, 2013 at 07:30

I am study in western world and the longer I stayed here, the more will I support the stability of China. The instability of one country gives opportunities for the NOBLE westerners to extort the wealth of the country which is a pray they cannot tacle. Think of the looting of Iraque national meusum and the cheap oil in US and the abundance of Chinese antiques in Britsh Meusum. The only hallucination of being freedom is because the better economy in the western countries.

February 7, 2014 at 05:18

Stability and freedom, accountability, rule of law are not mutually exclusive.

China would not have these highly publicized anti-corruption campaigns now if there was institutional protections and rule of law built in. It is indicative of a weakness in the system. When this dies down it will be business as usual. It needs a way to sustain it. Elections for posts is one way in which citizens can excercise this and at the very least remove the bad apples and that in turn puts pressure on them to remain honest.

ARAB spring a joke
August 20, 2013 at 07:15

Look at Egypt, and the rest arab countries, do not you think the spring switches to winter directly?

March 21, 2013 at 03:55

Freedom of speech "undermines, subverts, and destroys nations for insidious purposes"? And your solution would be government propoganda supplanting the free expression of ideas to establish a single source of information that serves only the elite party members? That is the thinking of the fascist/communist: tyanny is true freedom, oppression is liberty, thought control is critical thinking. It does not contain an atom of logic, only blind allegiance to the religion of Chinese fascism.

March 21, 2013 at 03:40

See? Even your arguments are stolen. Why don't you use your moral equivalence arguments to explain the 70 million Chinese starved to death by the incompetence of Mao's Great Leap Forward? Then you can explain away the countless millions tortured and murdered in the Cultural Revolution. Then you can cap off your prose with a justification of the wholesale murder of teenagers in Tiananmen Square on 6/4/1989. There are zero analogous crimes commited by the US government. US citizens cannot be moved to Guantanamo Bay, contrary to your factually incorrect statement; none have, ever. No one has been tortured at Guantanamo Bay outside of waterboarding, not exactly like having toothpicks pushed into your testicles as is common when Chinese nationals are tortured for questioning the government.

[...] place  with 2 1/3 votes – Steve Hess/The Diplomat – Why Wasn’t There A Chinese Spring? submitted by The Glittering [...]

March 6, 2013 at 12:59

[...] place  with 2 1/3 votes – Steve Hess/The Diplomat – Why Wasn’t There A Chinese Spring? submitted by The Glittering [...]

[...] place with 2 1/3 votes – Steve Hess/The Diplomat – Why Wasn’t There A Chinese Spring? submitted by The Glittering [...]

[...] place with 2 1/3 votes – Steve Hess/The Diplomat – Why Wasn’t There A Chinese Spring? submitted by The Glittering [...]

[...] place with 2 1/3 votes – Steve Hess/The Diplomat – Why Wasn’t There A Chinese Spring? submitted by The Glittering [...]

[...] place  with 2 1/3 votes – Steve Hess/The Diplomat – Why Wasn’t There A Chinese Spring? submitted by The Glittering [...]

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