Imaginary Jasmine Revolution’s real consequence

For the record.

* An excerpt from WSJ, “Call to Activists Unnerves China

Ahead of the planned protests, more than 100 activists across China were taken away by police, confined to their homes or went missing, according to the Hong Kong-based group Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.

The online protest appeal is likely to compound the apparent concern among Communist Party leaders that the recent uprisings against authoritarian governments in the Middle East and North Africa could inspire similar unrest in China. The lackluster popular response, however, demonstrates how much harder it would be to organize a sustained protest movement in a country with a well-funded and organized police force, and with the world’s most sophisticated Internet censorship system.

At one of the designated protest sites — a McDonald’s outlet in Beijing’s central Wangfujing shopping district — The Wall Street Journal saw a crowd of several hundred people gather, along with hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police, shortly before 2 p.m.

The crowd, however, consisted almost entirely of foreign journalists and curious shoppers—many of whom thought there was a celebrity in the area—along with a handful of young people who said they had heard about the protest appeal and come to watch.

The only sign of protest came from a young Chinese man who was detained by police after laying some jasmine flowers outside the McDonald’s and trying to take a photograph of them on his mobile phone, witnesses said. At least two other people were detained after altercations with police, but it was not clear whether they were protesting, the witnesses said.

Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to China—who has been critical of the country’s Internet controls—was also in the crowd but quickly left after he was identified by a Chinese crowd member with whom he was chatting. [Hmm, interesting.]

* An excerpt from Al Jazeera, ““Call me if there’s a revolution”” by Melissa Chan (Al Jazeera’s correspondent based in China),

“Call me if there’s a revolution.”

That’s what I told my friend, also a journalist, as he headed to central Beijing. I did not go. Not because I’ve become a lackadaisical journalist, but because I was pretty certain nothing would happen and that it would be a waste of my Sunday afternoon (instead, I started reading Richard McGregor’s book, The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers).

On Twitter and China’s more popular microblog Sina Weibo, users were reposting calls to gather across 13 major cities in China to protest and kick off a so-called “Jasmine Revolution”, clearly inspired by the events in North Africa and the Middle East over the past few weeks. It’s unclear where this plan initiated – but what is clear is that none of the usual suspects from China’s activist and human rights community knew much about the march – some expressing doubt, others simply reposting the plan to gather at squares and city hot spots.

Never mind the culprit though – police officers peremptorily swept in and rounded up at least a dozen dissidents overnight. Sina Weibo censors kicked in, and any tweets referencing jasmines were deleted. There were unconfirmed reports that students at some universities were told they could not leave campus for the day. In some cities, online users told of a greater show of police on the streets.

[…] Here’s why I think China won’t be having a revolution anytime soon:

— The government knows how Twitter and Facebook work and have a sophisticated system of censorship, supported by an army of people and software. This means there really isn’t a means for anyone to organise protests here the way the students did in Egypt with online tools. Anything of the sort would be deleted almost immediately after posting.

— Speaking of students, Chinese students would probably riot if you took away their iPhones with the Angry Birds computer game on it, sooner than they would rise up to demand greater human rights. This is because college students are privileged. Most of them grew up in cities, where their parents paid tutors to supplement their education so they could do well in the all-important high school examination that got them into university in the first place. They are comfortable and middle-class, and have too much to lose to bother rabble rousing.

[…]

— The revolution did happen. In 1989. And it failed, with the People’s Liberation Army tanks and guns firing on civilians. Back then, the Chinese government had let the demonstrations get out of hand, with some officials sympathising with protesters’ calls for reform. Sympathy or no sympathy today, leaders have learned their lesson and they will never let anything get out of hand like that again.”

* UK Guardian, “China detains activists after online call for protests • ‘Jasmine revolution’ posting calls for demonstrations in 13 cities • Crackdown swift as Hu Jintao signals unease in Beijing

* The Telegraph, “China snuffs out democracy protests

* VOA News, “China Tightens Security Ahead of Calls for Nationwide Protests

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