Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Jasmine Road: Will this Revolution Spread to China?

The recent upheavals in the Arab world are changing history in an unprecedented way. Sparked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia, the Jasmine Revolution has toppled the governments of Tunisia and Egypt (and, likely sooner than later, Libya). Protests have been occurring in Yemen for weeks now, as the citizens of these Arab states take to the streets to declare that their corrupt rulers no longer have the mandate of the people (if ever they did), and that the people will no longer stand for it. There have been movement and mobilization of people in Bahrain, and there is even a national day of protest on March 11th in Saudi Arabia, where people are seeking "a minimum wage of 10,000 riyals ($2,700), greater employment opportunities, [to] establish a watchdog to eliminate corruption and cancellation of 'unjustified taxes and fees.' Other requests included rebuilding the armed forces, reforming Saudi Arabia's powerful and conservative Sunni Muslim clerics, and "the abolition of all illegal restrictions on women" in the kingdom." And this is coming from a kingdom where unsanctioned public assembly is illegal.

News of the Arab revolutions have spread to China, where they have (unsurprisingly) made the Central Politburo even more watchful than usual, and where coverage of the protests are, of course, heavily censored by the Communist Party. An attempted demonstration last week, launched by "a mysterious call," has put the Chinese government on guard, and when the protesters tried to assemble in central Beijing, they found they were outnumbered by the police. There has, however, been another appeal for gatherings next week in Beijing and 22 other Chinese cities.

Could the revolution spread to China? Personally, I don't think it's as likely, seeing as how the some Chinese are now enjoying some of the highest standards of living they have ever seen, which in turn leaves them more content and secure. In addition, the Chinese population is aging, while the Arab states tend to have a much more youthful, yet disenfranchised demographic. However, the gap between rich and poor in China continues to grow rapidly, and with such a large population, the poor represent a significant amount of the country's people. Here, five experts weigh in with their opinions on the situation particular to China.

Yet, there are some questions that some Chinese people are starting to face with increasing confidence about their rights, especially in regards to basic needs such as housing, employment and food. In the article "Could the Revolution Spread to China?", the author describes a video that was floating around on Chinese webspace around Lunar New Year (the Year of the Rabbit) before all the links to the video were blocked. It describes:
... the opening scene, a small village of rabbits is living happily when a truck selling Three Tiger baby milk pulls up and drops off bottles for all the little bunnies.

But the milk is poisonous – it makes the baby rabbits' heads explode – and soon one mother rabbit is running down to complain at the cave of the tigers (the outgoing lunar year) that rule over them. When she gets inside, the red banner hanging on the cave wall is familiar to anyone who lives in China. “Build a harmonious forest,” it reads, in a clear reference to President Hu Jintao's oft-stated goal of establishing a “harmonious society.”

Though the creator maintained that his video was simply an “adult fairy tale,” the parallels to real life in China were all too obvious. Predictably, all links to the video were blocked within hours of its original appearance.

Is this the year the Chinese people rise up for the first time since 1989, when pro-democracy demonstrations were crushed by tanks on Tiananmen Square? Could the wave of popular protests that began in Tunis and swept through Cairo eventually reach Beijing? Could fast-rising food costs and the leaping price of oil bring an end to the unspoken pact – economic growth in exchange for stability – between the ruling Communist Party and China's 1.3 billion citizens?

Whatever happens in the end, the process of toppling long-held structures and existing regimes is exciting and refreshing, and can be interpreted very optimistically for a lot of people. However, whether or not the Jasmine Revolution eventually picks up steam in China, and whether or not the bunnies grow teeth this year or maybe the next, it has already changed the face of the Middle East forever, and the process is not yet finished. When the dust settles and the new leaders emerge, who will they be, and how will they rule?

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