The Jasmine gatherings in Beijing late last month felt like a gust of wind, but one that has merely blown away some of the dust from the road. Afterward, the direction of the road is still the same, and even after the breeze, the path is crowded and dirty.
I’m not against the current government, but I do resent corruption, and I’m worried about China's future. I decided to visit Beijing’s Wangfujing, where the organizers of the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ rallies had suggested people gather so I could see for myself how much influence this call had had on the people.
As I noted in the comments section of fellow China Power blogger Jason’s entry ‘China Cracks Down over Jasmine,’ the scene felt more like a market than a protest rally. Maybe Chinese still have more to learn about these things.
But despite the police quickly moving in to disperse the crowds, I still had time to make a few observations.
First, it’s important to remember that the call for a revolution came from outside China, and that the real identity of these organizers is unclear. This makes it particularly interesting that such a call still managed to prompt anti-government protests in several large cities—it says to me that ordinary Chinese really are willing to try to do something to change their situation. They don’t care who organized the meetings, they just want the chance to show people they are there. Clearly, this is a result of the worsening social problems many Chinese are confronted with.
Second, the government is obviously extremely sensitive over the whole 'revolution' issue. There were dozens of uniformed and plain clothes police at the scene, and even though some have tried to dismiss the whole rally thing as a prank, it still has the government anxious. The large security turnout the past couple of weekends underscores the seriousness with which these calls are being treated, and how much money and manpower the government is willing to expend to prevent a revolution and maintain stability.
But despite the presence of protesters in some major cities, the vast majority of Chinese simply aren’t aware of this issue. Indeed, many of my colleagues in the media know little or nothing about what’s going on, so it’s perhaps hardly surprising much of the public doesn’t either.
This lack of awareness suggests that as long as the government continues with its censorship of the Internet, it will be extremely difficult for a Jasmine Revolution to take root in China. Continued censorship has meant, sadly, that many ordinary Chinese have little interest in domestic or international affairs, and are only interested now in how to make money. With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that so many foreign observers have argued that the biggest success for the Chinese government as a result of 30 years of economic reforms is that people are now simply chasing money, and have forgotten about chasing political ideals.
All this said, I wouldn’t actually want a Jasmine Revolution in China anyway, because this kind of sudden change could pose a significant threat to so many livelihoods.
Some have argued that if calls for revolution continue from one week to the next, that this will gradually wear the government down. But I don’t agree. Tight restrictions on how people communicate through the Internet mean that we’re just more likely to see the same faces every week in Wangfujing.
Instead, the best chance for change is by appealing to intellectuals within the Chinese Communist Party itself—pressure for progress will have to come from within the ruling party, rather than from below. This, in my view, is a more attractive option than the prospect of the weekly blooming of Jasmine in Wangfujing.