Courtesy: South Asia Analysis Group (SAAG)
1911 marked the great proletariat Xinhai Revolution in China which overthrew the feudal Qing dynasty. Exactly after 100 years, under the shadow of several Middle East countries, will China witness “another revolution of the century”?—This is the billion dollar question currently striking the minds of Chinese experts and haunting the Chinese authorities with sleepless nights.
There is a saying in Chinese, “Yi nian yi luan, shi nian da luan”, meaning “One small revolution each year while a major revolution every ten years”. China indeed witnesses not one but several thousand minor revolutions every year which remains unreported and mostly piloted by poor peasants and migrant workers, but a major? Since 1989, the country has by and large remained peaceful, except some “not so minor revolutions in Tibet and Xinjiang”. So, do the revolutionaries see a silver line in the passing cloud?
In fact, Chinese have already started to tread on the path shown by Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans on Sundays. On 20 February, in more than 12 cities, a small number of protesters gave heed to the appeal and gathered at the designated places; however they were outnumber red by police and foreign journalists. On the following Sunday the 26th, there were more protesters in 23 cities but they were once looked tiny in the presence of large number of police deployed by the communist regime. There is repeated rallying call on the banned Boxun website, which seems to be operated from overseas countries, that every Sunday afternoon, people should congregate after their morning stroll and express their protest against the corrupt communist government.
But can this spark of “Jasmine Revolution” from the Middle East Asian countries engulf China? At this juncture, it seems improbable and impossible.
When the revolution completely faltered in 1989 at Tiananmen, the common Chinese people had not tasted the success of reform and open door policy; but now that the country has become the second biggest economy in the world and fruit of success, to some extent is being shared by the common mass, it will be incredibly difficult for the organizers of this year’s revolution to succeed.
Although per capita income in China is still less than that of Tunisia, Egypt or Libya but the way the country has progressed in the last three decade, is simply impeccable, completely awesome and truly remarkable. In the last three decades, more than 300 million people have crossed over the line of poverty and in 2008 and 2009 when most of the countries were strongly under the adverse affect of the global economic recession; China registered a double digit growth even under these gloomy economic scenarios. An average factory worker in 1980’s earned 47 Yuan or about RS 300 a month, now he earns more than 2000 Yuan or about RS 11,000 a month.
Before 1989, Chinese people could not believe that they could have their own private house and villa, everything then was state owned. Professors and even high officials lived in matchbox type quarters but mainly after 1995, when common masses have started owing their own houses and flats and harvest other financial benefits, they do not want to derail their economy.
In 1980’s the network of Chinese train tracks was about 38,000 KM, almost same as India. But today, the Chinese “Dragon express” is way ahead than the Indian “Elephant Express”. China today has the fastest trains in the world, clocking 421 KM an hour while the fastest Indian trains would not clock even 150 KM an hour. Would you believe that China had no motorways before 1988? By 2010, it had 79,000 km, the second largest network in the world. This could increase to 100,000 km by 2020!
Yes, everything is not so rosy in China and hence the small and symbolic protests have already started. People are completely shattered and bewildered with rampant corruption, increasing Gini coefficient, towering housing prices, dismal medical and social welfare system, soaring inflation, ambiguous and unequal tax system and rising unemployment. Yet, because millions of Chinese have become richer and infrastructure has gone under complete overhaul, even the protestors on their official website are only clamouring to protest and not overthrow the communist government. They have themselves written on their websites and blogs, “We do not necessarily have to overthrow the current government. As long as the government fights corruption, the government and officials accept the people’s supervision, the government is sincere about solving the problems regarding judicial independence and freedom of expression and gives a timetable; we can give the ruling party time to solve the problems. We can call a stop to the strolling (Read Protest) activities.”
Though 1989 was not the year of Facebook, Youtube and Twitter, 2011 is still not the year of these sites and micro-blogs in China. Although having the largest number of netizens in the country, Chinese cannot freely access these sites and if they want to do so, they will have to pay for an overseas vop which a common Chinese may not afford. Needless to mention, any sensitive matter on the internet is completely blocked. Hence the biggest headache for the protestors is complete “Internet censorship”, “no regard for human rights” and “freedom of media” in the country. Several pro-democracy lawyers and intellectuals have been already harassed and detained for “inciting subversion of state power” after they reposted calls for protests on the Internet.
I myself opened an account on the Chinese version Facebook, “Renren.com” and posted a line in Chinese, “Some more information on Jasmine Revolution in China, please!” Within hour, the post was obliterated with a minor warning in Chinese to obey the rule and regulations of the country! But will all the Chinese abide by the rule of the country, only time will tell!
(Courtesy: South Asia Analysis Group(SAAG). The writer is course director of Chinese Stream at University of Bath, United Kingdom. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org)