Shanghai View: Jasmine Tea Revolutions?

Posted: February 26, 2011 in Whose World Order?
Tags: , , , , ,

A new post over at Whose World Order?, this time looking at what I feel is a rather overheated speculation about the implications of the current revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East for China. I might be writing more on this subject later in the week, and would appreciate any other’s thoughts and views.

Shanghai View: Jasmine Tea Revolutions?

Date: 25th February 2011  |  Author: Raffaello Pantucci,

Categories: China,
Tags: EgyptJasmine RevolutionLibyaTunisiaChina

A lot has been made of the implications for China of the current wave of revolutionary zeal in North Africa and the Middle East. From Shanghai, however, much of this seems overplayed; I have found few colleagues or friends who genuinely believe that this means much of anything for China. There are sporadic protests one hears about – the Shanghai one was very small – and in Beijing I understood that it was hard to tell how many actual protesters showed up in Wangfujing.

Having said all this, it seems clear that central government here is concerned about things. The press has waited until events have clearly reached a critical mass before coverage of a revolution becomes substantial (a sign that editors are waiting to see which way the political winds are blowing before they express a view). Net searches about things related to China and the revolutions remain sensitive (as in they don’t work), and some searches including outgoing US Ambassador Jon Huntsman’s name were sporadically blocked after a video surfaced of him at the protests in Beijing.

The US Embassy has claimed the Ambassador was on his way to a museum and had stopped to have a look around, but the story the video tells is an interesting one. In it, a Chinese member of the crowd shouts at the Ambassador asking him: “You want to see China in chaos, don’t you?” Huntsman, quite prominently wearing a jacket with a US flag emblazoned on it, denies this but quickly leaves as people start shouting at him: “Yes, China has many problems! Reform, livelihoods, morality, faith – our problems are many! But we don’t want to be another Iraq! We don’t want to be another Tunisia! Nor another Egypt! If the nation should descend into chaos, will the US and these reformers put food on the table for our 1.3 billion people? Don’t f****** mess with it!”

This seems quite telling, as it highlights one of the many reasons why it is unlikely that we are going to see a revolution on a similar scale in China. People are too invested in the system and too fearful of what might come instead to rip it all down. Certainly in Shanghai, friends have all talked about the revolutions with heavy unspoken comparisons with China, but no one is planning mass protests in People’s Square. A non-Chinese friend astutely pointed out that unlike the centrally focused autocracies of the Middle East and North Africa, there is no central figure to focus anger on – no Gadaffi or Mubarak to focus attention and anger.

There is an order amongst chaos in China. Things generally work, and while there is an endless volume of angst about corruption in which the poorer members of society suffer disproportionately, heads do roll, giving some sense that accountability does exist (most recently it seems as though the minister for trains has fallen victim). Things aren’t perfect, but people have a sense that through hard work they might be able to elevate themselves, giving them a capacity to aspire to reform the system rather than want to overturn it.

 

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Comments
  1. Shanghai View: Jasmine Tea Revolutions? « Raffaello Pantucci…

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

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