Will There Be a Jasmine Revolution?

I just read an article on Pajamas Media entitled “A First-Hand Report from a ‘Jasmine Rally’ in Shanghai.” It discusses the author’s first-hand observations of a rally in Shanghai modeled on the protests and revolutions taking place in the Middle East, and the author’s observations on the likelihood of a similar protest/revolution succeeding in China.

What many people in the US don’t know about China is that protests and uprisings are actually very common. Very few (actually, none) are as dramatic or as large as the Tiananmen protests of 1989, but many are in response to some indiscretion, corruption, or scandal by local officials or their family members. As a result, local officials (especially the chengguan – the “City Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement Bureau”) are widely reviled by ordinary citizens. Corruption is rampant in the Chinese government, as a direct result of the structure of the government – there is little accountability, since the CCP controls every aspect of the government. As there is no independent judiciary or opposition party to provide a power balance, dramatic protest is often the only outlet for popular outrage. Since the CCP values a “harmonious society,” the protests can damage the careers of local officials, so protests can sometimes effect positive changes, at least temporarily, but at an extreme price: protesters are often jailed or beaten, even killed, by thugs backing the local officials. Often, officials will try to buy off protesters to keep them quiet, but if they continue protesting, violence and/or incarceration are pretty much sure to follow.

So, can there be a successful Jasmine Revolution in China? My opinion is that it is unlikely. The Chinese government may be corrupt and sometimes brutal, but the people running the CCP are, I think, a lot smarter than the dictators and nutcases (but I repeat myself) running the various Middle Eastern tin pot dictatorships. My belief is that the CCP sees the handwriting on the wall and wants to slowly introduce reforms, without the entire country dissolving into civil war. The Chinese are well aware of their own history; when dynasties in China have fallen in the past, inevitably there has followed a period of “restructuring” that was often violent in the extreme.  I think the CCP is trying to avoid a repeat of that kind of restructuring, but there are, I am certain, reactionary elements within the CCP that don’t want to yield any power at all. I believe how the CCP decides to handle the “Jasmine” movement towards democratic government will ultimately decide whether the “Jasmine” revolution is truly a revolution, a civil war (I really hope that such a thing never happens in China, as it will be disastrous for China and the whole world), or is a “soft” revolution, with democratic reforms being introduced over time. I hope, for the people of China, and for the whole world, that the leaders of the CCP will realize that introducing reform is the only viable way forward.

[UPDATE: related article on MSNBC on a potential protest in Beijing. Clearly the Chinese authorities are worried, and are trying to prevent any protests from even getting started. This tactic could backfire, but I don’t think it will right now, unless the police do something really stupid.]

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5 Responses to Will There Be a Jasmine Revolution?

  1. Tom says:

    I completely agree with your assessment here Pete. I walked past the protest site for one of the cities that isn’t Beijing or Shanghai, and there was absolutely nothing going on. Maybe one or two groups of men standing around, but they just as easily could have been plainclothes cops, as protesters.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      Thanks for commenting, Tom, and your kind words. I hadn’t seen your blog before, but it really looks fascinating. I must admit that I feel a bit jealous. I am not quite sure why, but over the past few years, I’ve become really fascinated with China (I think my wife thinks I’m crazy), and I’ve started to learn Mandarin Chinese (well, I’ve been studying it for about 3 years or so, but I’m not at all fluent), and so I really wish I had your many years of experience in China. I’ve only been there one time, but I’ve made many very close friends there that I chat with daily via IM. I think I have many of the same thoughts about China that you do – I admire and love the people and the country, but I am quite critical of the government. I think China can (and someday will) do better.

      • Tom says:

        Thanks Pete.
        It’s a newish blog (about 3 months), but I put a lot of work into it. Always nice when that gets noticed.

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