The Jasmine Revolution Comes to ChinaFrom the Middle East to the Far East.
It seems that the seeds of the Jasmine Flower, the symbol of the Tunisian Revolution, have spread beyond the borders of the Middle East, wafting through the air and touching down in the Far East.
In Beijing on Sunday anonymous calls for protest sent across social media and micro-blogging sites resulted in a demonstration outside a McDonalds in the busy downtown shopping district of Wangfujing. By 2PM hundreds of police were on scene. 25-year-old Liu Xiaobai was apprehended for placing a jasmine flower in a planter in front of the McDonalds but was released after the commotion drew attention from photographers and journalists.
The call for protests originated from Boxun on Saturday (Feb. 19), a U.S. based Chinese community website, and listed thirteen major cities for demonstrations. Participants were urged to shout, “We want food, we want work, we want housing, we want fairness.” On Saturday Boxun was attacked by hackers and subsequently formed a temporary site during this time period.
Word of the “Jasmine Revolution” induced authorities to block any mention of mass protests on internet portals as well as stop mass text messaging on cell phones. Heavy police presence was reported throughout major cities in China.
Online, reports stream in of increased police presence in Shenzhen subways. A skirmish outside a Starbucks in Shanghai lead to the detainment of three people. In Peking University students claimed that officials had urged them to avoid attending any protests. According to the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, more than 100 activists in cities across China were taken away by police, confined to their homes or were missing.
Back in Wangfujing, the mix of police (as well as plainclothes officers) and protesters heightened tensions amid the bustling tourist spot. Many bystanders stopped to see what the commotion was about, believing a celebrity had stepped in for a bite. Others quietly acknowledged when asked if they were there to attend the protest.
On Saturday, Hu Jintao met with top leaders for a special “study session” in order to address lingering social problems which threaten harmony and stability in the Middle Kingdom. Of particular note were rising food and housing prices which continue to create public unrest. Hu also told senior officials to improve social services and improve management of information in order “to guide public opinion.”
All this continues in spite of increased crackdowns on human rights supporters recently, which to date has resulted in the arrest or detainment of 15 well-known lawyers and activists. According to the New York Times:
Several of them reached by phone, including Pu Zhiqiang and Xu Zhiyong, said they were in the company of security agents and unable to talk, while many others were unreachable on Sunday evening. Two of the men, Tang Jitian and Jiang Tianyong, remain missing.
Whether these calls for democratic reform will take root or fall on deaf ears in a country of 1.3 billion is yet to be seen. The sporadic incidents of Sunday are drops in the pond for a country so vast and diverse. Nevertheless, the comparisons to the Middle East are unavoidable. In a region where snipers are being dispatched to squelch dissent, let’s hope that the CCP can bear these atrocities in mind when dealing with their own citizens.
One person sitting in the McDonald’s after the brief protest in Beijing said he saw Sunday’s gathering as a dry run.
“Lots of people in here are Twitter users and came to watch like me,” said 42-year-old Hu Di. “Actually this didn’t have much organization, but it’s a chance to meet each other. It’s like preparing for the future.”