A New Call for Protests in China

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Days after an unsuccessful attempt at importing the Arab spring uprisings to China, a group of anonymous online organizers is trying again. In a posting on an overseas website popular with Chinese dissidents, they’ve called for further demonstrations every Sunday in 13 major Chinese cities. Last Sunday’s attempted “jasmine revolution” saw a large-scale crackdown on activists and a massive police turnout. This next effort will likely see more of the same.

But clearly the online instigators felt the endeavor was worthwhile, and want the demonstrations to continue. “We invite every participant to stroll, watch, or even just pretend to pass by,” they wrote. “As long as you are present, the authoritarian government will be shaking with fear.” In their letter they list a series of grievances including economic inequality, corruption, inflation and a weak social safety net. “We don’t care if we implement a one party system, a two party system, or even a three party system,” the letter reads, “but we are resolute in asking the government and the officials to accept the supervision of ordinary Chinese people, and we must have an independent judiciary.”

This call for protests, as with the original last weekend, has largely been censored in the domestic media, and search terms like “jasmine” have restricted on many Chinese sites, including Sina Weibo, a popular Twitter-like microblog service. But some exceptions have emerged. Video of US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman’s brief visit to Sunday’s protest site at a central Beijing McDonald’s has circulated online. The embassy told the Wall Street Journal that Huntsman, who is stepping down later this year, possibly to run for president, was merely walking through the shopping district with family and left once he realized what was happening. State media outlets have also run some limited criticism of the protests in recent days. The English edition of the Global Times, part of the Communist Party’s People’s Daily group, said there was no will for revolt in China. “The reality in China now is that extreme thoughts and behavior will always endure, as per Sunday, when a few people drew attention to them-selves through ‘performance art,’” the paper said Monday. “But their push for a ‘revolution’ will falter, as the public is opposed to it.”

The role of social networking applications like Twitter and Facebook in the success of revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia has been widely acknowledged. And in China, too, these services are significant, despite the widespread controls on the Internet. China has blocked Twitter and Facebook and instead permits domestic versions that are far more censored. But activists can use services such as virtual private networks to get around the filters. So despite China’s strict limits on the Internet, a call for coordinated protests spread online. But the second half of the equation from the Middle East was that the online message had to be heard by an angry populace ready to take to the streets. While there are certainly many people in China with grievances, and tens of thousands of protests here every year, they are usually over localized concerns, like forced evictions. Efforts for coordinated protests targeting the authority of the Communist Party are less common, and usually dealt with harshly by the authorities. So while the Twitter spark may still fire here, it hasn’t found fuel to burn.