Sunday, February 20, 2011

China’s Jasmine Protest: The Story and Reflection


On February 18, 2011, a call to protest in 13 major cities inside China was circulated on the Internet. The first website that posted this announcement, boxun.com, was immediately taken down by hackers believed working for Chinese government. Then the second website, canyu.org, was also brought down (and is still down until this time). Such unusual attack suggested the extreme nervousness about this information by the Chinese government. Very soon, a small buzz started to generate around the tag #cn220, on the upcoming protest. Someone has salvaged the protest announcement before those two sites went down and posted it on a Facebook page of an oversea Chinese.

While people outside China are keenly aware of upcoming protest through Twitter and facebook, such information was not available in China at all. For one, both Twitter and Facebook are banned in China. Those who can access them from China are a few tech savvy intellectuals who know how to get around Great Fire Wall. Second, if anyone attempts to post sensitive information referring to protest or even phrase “Jasmine Revolution” in China, the post will be deleted immediately. Chinese government has hired more than 1 million online forum moderators whose only job is deleting sensitive postings. In addition, Chinese micro-blog sites started to block the word “Jasimine”, making searching for protest information impossible.

The night before the protest, on February 19, Chinese security forces clamped own on potential protesters. A dozen activists who are known on Twitter were rounded up and detained. University students were asked to stay on campus, not going out Sunday. In addition, all police were called back on duty on Sunday. Apparently, the Chinese government was deeply worried, which explained the large security force deployed near the protest sites.

Was the Chinese government overreacting, or was it truly afraid a large protest could be sparkled? Given intelligence gathering capacity (with deep spying on its population) by Chinese authority, the government certainly believed there would be a genuine possibility of outpouring of protest supporters. This is due to the fact that there are some major grievances surfacing in recent years. The death of a village head on Christmas day last year generated big public outcry as land grabbing and forced migration become widespread in China. More than 10,000 protests broke out in China each year in various cities, some of which are very bloody confrontation. None of these protests is ever reported in Chinese media, but Chinese authority knows fully well how strong the public sentiment is. Combining those grievance to the call for protest should be very potent for a big rally.

But the Chinese authority has successful achieved, while no government except probably North Korea can achieve, a complete information blackout. More than 99.9% people simply have not heard about the protest. The Great information fire wall, and the great Chinese censorship has made the words “Jasmine Revolution” simply disappear. They cannot be mentioned, and they cannot be searched.

In addition, unlike Egyptian organizers who could use Facebook to gather large followers for their upcoming protests, their Chinese counterpart has no such tools.

On February 20th, the day of protest, hundreds of people still managed to show up in Beijing and Shanghai at pre-announced protest location under huge police presence. More than 10 police vans are lining up nearby in these locations, and across China’s major cities. In Beijing people did not shout a slogan. But a man who carried a bouquet of jasmine flowers were immediately taken away by the police. Three people were arrested in Shanghai, one man was arrested in Bejing, and in Guangzhou, a lawyer named Liu Shihui was beaten on his way to protest.

Within 2 hours, the crowd were dispersed by police, thus ended the planned protest.

Would ordinary Chinese people join the protest if they know about it? We would know the answer if the government had not hacked down the announcement sites, or blocked Facebook and Twitter, or filtered out the word “Jasmine Revolution” in micro-blog, or deleted all posts that announced this protest. In other words, the government has no choice but a complete information blackout. Apparently, the government has no confidence to let even 1% of people know about this protest.

When we celebrate the Jasmine Revolution in the Middle East, we do not realize how important the social networking technologies is until we look at China. The three websites that play crucial roles in Egypt uprisings: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, are all banned in China. In fact, China blocked more than 100 websites that it considered “subversive” including networking sites such as Foursquare.

Another condition for Jasmine Revolution to work is reasonable political openness. Today’s China is comparable to Egypt under Mubarak 20 years ago, when there is no opposition parties, no elections, no outside TV channels. There is almost no independent union in China. Before Mubarak regime was toppled, Egyptian people already enjoy reasonable amount of freedom that is enviable by today’s Chinese people.

The third condition that is missing is TV channels like Al Jazeera, which brings uncensored information to people. There is no independent TV station in China, and no Chinese is allowed to watch Satellite TV program outside China. For a long time, Chinese relies on Voice of America (VOA) to get information from outside. Unfortunately, the Obama administration is considering shutting down the VOA Chinese broadcast program. How can you promote democracy in China when shutting down program that serves an important role in this aspect?  

While the jasmine flower has not blossomed in China, we have seen a seed is sowed there. The significance of February 20’s protest is that this is the first attempt in 22 years since the 1989’s bloody Tiananmen crackdown, any Chinese dared to openly challenge the government and openly call for a protest. Such boldness was unthinkable just 1 month ago. It shows the profound impact of the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia and Egypt. The desire for freedom and basic rights is universal. It rings true from the Arab world all the way to the east Asia.

21 comments:

  1. Another argument I've read is, that social media allowed younger activists in Egypt to network anonymously and for previously antagonistic activists to find common ground. I doubt Hans and Muslims will find such common ground in China.

    Also, Egyptian military leaders decided to be respectful to younger protest leaders instead of contemptuous. I don't see Chinese elders acting that way.

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  2. 谢谢胡峻玲的文章,希望你寄给NYT, WSJ, Washington Post, etc.
    结束专制制度,突破信息封锁当然很重要,这是起点。还有一点也很重要,那就是如何使中国的军队和警察不疯狂地屠杀和平的民众,包括,非法的软禁、绑架、酷刑甚至暗杀。
    北京和上海那些#cn220被捕的年轻人真的让我看到了希望,祝他们平安!

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  3. China has been acting and treated as if it is a first class country due to their current economical situation. It is also no secret the wealth it boasts is based on slavish labor of oppressed countries like Tibet and Uiguh, if not second-rated citizens in country side  of China. International society should now, though too late, team up against this totalitarian and terrorist country. It's obsession to expand their boarder is never-ending. It is on its way to take over Taiwan by 2012 (as clearly commented) and Senkaku Islands of Japan this June. If the revolution within the country seems too far-fetched, what we should do is to surround the country internationally.

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  4. 当民主成为时尚,成为山寨的目标,它也就成了闹剧。伟大的山寨大国,伟大的山寨民主运动者。

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  5. 山寨的民主比正宗的专制好100倍

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  6. I wonder if some Chinese activists hope to repeat the East German pattern by having a series of ever larger Sunday afternoon demonstrations. On Twitter/cn220 I saw a posting that suggested that. The Wiki article on the East German protests are at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monday_demonstrations_in_East_Germany

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  7. I think this raises important questions about what conditions are required for Chinese to begin mobilising a large scale protest movement. I suggest there needs to be some sort of triggering event that would bring people onto the streets rather than just a bunch of messages posted on the internet.

    Anonymous (February 20, 2011 6:01 PM) also makes an interesting suggestion and perhaps this could mark the early beginnings of a new movement.

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  8. 可笑的言论!
    一群SB高喊着需要民主结束一党专政,在中国社会出现的种种不就是TM的制度问题公民意识素质问题所至,这13亿人的问题合在一起,即便多党制,问题没解决也TM直接变成印度式的虚伪假民主。
    当民主自由成廉价借口,他们在网上爆着嘴炮找快感的一群盲从的人们。所谓"茉莉花革命",一群人又一次高潮迭起,滑天下之大稽!
    若所谓这些革命爆发直至混乱时,“他们”,那些人所谓的“朋友”所谓的“正义自由上帝”,将会漏出狰狞的嘴脸…
    这些人在“他们”眼里只是一个工具一个棋子罢了。
    一个真想为中国好的人不会把无辜的人们带入这混乱动荡。

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  9. Twitter观光团前来围观~!并纷纷表示你们这些人太坏了,这样是不行滴!
    Twitter@chenashaoju

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  10. Thanks for the information and analysis.

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  11. Willis 你不是5毛就是被共产党洗脑的 NC!被共产党恐吓离开专制将天下大乱,还不如独裁。
    民主不是高科技,不是只有某些人才能实施。人多素质低都只是专制的借口。

    Willis said...
    可笑的言论!
    一群SB高喊着需要民主结束一党专政,在中国社会出现的种种不就是TM的制度问题公民意识素质问题所至,这13亿人的问题合在一起,即便多党制,问题没解决也TM直接变成印度式的虚伪假民主。
    当民主自由成廉价借口,他们在网上爆着嘴炮找快感的一群盲从的人们。所谓"茉莉花革命",一群人又一次高潮迭起,滑天下之大稽!
    若所谓这些革命爆发直至混乱时,“他们”,那些人所谓的“朋友”所谓的“正义自由上帝”,将会漏出狰狞的嘴脸…
    这些人在“他们”眼里只是一个工具一个棋子罢了。
    一个真想为中国好的人不会把无辜的人们带入这混乱动荡。

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  12. as i said in the twitter before .the shut down of the Voa is the worst thing that Obama which ever did in sino-American history .as a chinese man which in information prison ,Iam strongly hope the Obama administration could lost the Next Election.

    For those days ,it is very hard to log in banned website ,thounds of Apn or other twitter api is killed ,and I am sure if the China government think things get worth for future,they will definitely closed the accesss to any out side webiste (just like they do in Xinjiang)...in that time .the only source for information is rely on VOA.

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  13. Basically the author doe snot understand what the average Chinese need at all. One of the explanations could be Chinese democratic elite are estranging themselves from the common Chinese. A so called democracy without solid economic foundation is nothing but chaos and disaster, no better than the Suharto financial empire of illusory democracy. When we are talking democracy, we are tacitly acknowledging democracy is the single form of system that we can imagine. Is that true? Socrates was voted to death by the majority of ancient citizens of Athens. In passing the PATRIOT Act after the attacks of September 11, 2001, U.S.citizens could be searched without a judge's warrant. Democracy is not a universal form to organize people. On the other side of the coin, democracy might be a good thing. But Chinese do not need that kind of democracy given by those democratic elite. Democratic elite estranged to Chinese workers and farmers will bring China into backward and worse situation.

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  14. Willis is a dog of ccp

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  15. 讨厌那些打着民主自由人权的招牌,却派出大兵到处屠杀他国平民百姓,掠夺他国资源的伪君子国家,和他们的祖先一样都是强盗,我忠心祈祷我的祖国早日强大不能落入这帮豺狼口中,我的同胞们再也不能让那帮屠夫们随意屠杀.

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  16. Have you attempted to send out a mass proxy service to reroute the blocked information? If someone were to initiate a large scale email distribution with a proxy software, than you could easily circumvent this problem.

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  17. 好让自己家的狗咬死?

    Anonymous said...

    讨厌那些打着民主自由人权的招牌,却派出大兵到处屠杀他国平民百姓,掠夺他国资源的伪君子国家,和他们的祖先一样都是强盗,我忠心祈祷我的祖国早日强大不能落入这帮豺狼口中,我的同胞们再也不能让那帮屠夫们随意屠杀.

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  18. I didn't know anything about Jasmine protest until a lunch break talk after work, then someone send me the link here. I feel so angry to be blocked out, and have a great pity for the goverment,

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  19. The late Chair Mao said, "The evil govenment will not fall unless you beat it down. The dirt will not go to the dust bin until you use the brooms (by force)."

    Now the communist govenment in China is on the receiving end of Mao's prediction.

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  20. I have a plan to get people to know about the protest. If you would like to help me, please, go to my profile. I have it all figured out. I just need volunteers

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