Sunday, February 20, 2011

China's Jasmine Revolution quickly quashed

A small protest took place in Beijing on Sunday, inspired in part by the demonstrations seen recently in the Middle East. It wasn't quite the 'Jasmine Revolution' as billed, but given the inability for Chinese to properly organise using social media, the fact that anything occurred at all was a miracle in itself.

Calls had been made on a few foreign based websites to gather in some 13 cities across China and protest under a unified slogan, "We want to eat, we want to work, we want housing, we should be fairly treated."

Authorities acted swiftly to prevent the message reaching a wide audience. Searches for key words like Jasmine, protest and revolution were blocked by Chinese microblogging sites and activists were rounded up or warned not to attend the gatherings.

But in Beijing and Shanghai a small number of people did turn up at the specified time. Outside McDonalds in Beijing's Wangfujing shopping precinct there was a low key police presence at first. Two special CCTV vehicles kept a watchful eye on the fastfood restaurant as shoppers passed by. Shortly before 2 pm the number of people around MdDonalds suddenly swelled. It was difficult to tell onlookers, from would-be protesters and there was a large media presence that for a time appeared to outnumber both the crowd and police.

After a few minutes, despite there being no obvious protest police began to move in and try to break up the large gathering. "Zoule, zoule, zoule," [move on..] the officers iterated over and over. However, the crowd just seemed to circulate around them. In one bizarre incident an officer became surrounded by dozens of photographers and cameramen as he tried to disperse people and he became lost in the thick of a media scrum.

The crowd formed a circle creating a large space as though to make room for some impending performance. There was none however. Instead dozens of police officers moved in and began ushering the large crowd away. Some flowers were thrown into the space and at the feet of some officers who looked up to see where they had come from. One man tried to pick some up but was immediately set upon by plain-clothed officers who dragged him away followed by a large throng of photographers.

"I had just been visiting the Forbidden City as a tourist and I passed by here and then these people took me away," the bespectacled man told reporters later. "Why would they take me away? I was just a passer-by," the man, who declined to be named, said. "What democracy is there?"

Many of those gathered outside the restaurant seemed rather bewildered of the events taking place. "What's going on?" one woman asked. "Have you not heard of the Jasmine Revolution?" a man said in response.

This was far from a revolution however. There were no placards. Few shouts of defiance, and little if any revolutionary fervor. But this was China, where protest is rarely tolerated and dissent is often severely punished.

In some ways the 'protest' did mark something rather significant. It showed that despite the threats of arrest and harassment many Chinese were beginning to stand up to authority. In the only other reported action on the streets of Shanghai three men who appeared to be in their 20s were taken to the police station near the Shanghai Peace Cinema after an altercation with police.

Two elderly people said they had attended to protest the country's corrupt legal system and police brutality. "We protest the unfairness of our legal system. They just arrest anyone indiscriminately and even beat them up," an elderly woman, angry at the government's seizure of her home in 1996, told reporters. An elderly man in the small crowd was also vocal in his complaints about the lack of freedom in China. "What human rights do these people have? None at all. We don't even have the right to walk. We don't even have the right to talk," he said [BBC / France24 / ABC / Fox / Reuters / AP]

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

No comments: