In order to remind local subjects of their place in the quasi-feudal, neo-colonial order, Beijing’s emissaries in Hong Kong rarely deign to address the media, and by extension common people, directly. The only time we usually hear from them is when they make coded comments for public consumption at gatherings of loyalists. When they do speak into a stranger’s microphone, something important must be happening. Thus the Standard/Sing Tao quotes the Liaison Office’s director general of publicity, culture and sports, Hao Tiechuan:
…there will not be a Jasmine-style revolt in the mainland. Leaders in Beijing “are clear-minded” and only in power for two terms, he said. They do not hold on to power for decades like in some countries. Economic growth meant a “high degree of confidence” in the central government, Hao added, and people who plan social unrest are irresponsible.
In Tunisia and Egypt popular and predominantly youthful protest movements have ejected ossified old dictators. Yemenis have tried to emulate them. In Bahrain, Shiites take to the streets to demand reform. In Benghazi, Gaddafi’s helicopter gunships and mercenaries seem to have slaughtered hundreds in an uprising. Milder demonstrations have taken place in Jordan, Algeria and now Morocco. The Arab people, as Mao Zedong might have put it, have stood up.
As what seems to be little more than a childish prank over the weekend, on-line mischief-makers in China called for a ‘jasmine revolution’ of their own. Tiny numbers of genuine participants turned up, outnumbered by curious onlookers, Western reporters and police. A handful of brave souls making such gestures as laying fragrant white flowers were arrested.
The locations of this nationwide revolt – a McDonalds in Beijing and a Starbucks in Shanghai – give a clue about the sort of people involved: young, urban, middle-class types with the inclination and means to follow what happens on the other side of the planet. A privileged class relatively untouched by the corruption, unemployment, cronyism and rising food prices that have finally roused the masses in the Middle East. Such evils exist in abundance in China, but they crush the rural and other poor who do not follow events in Tahrir Square and the Pearl Roundabout and are not going to unite on Twitter and rise up. China’s jasmine revolution was a bit of radical chic, and the propagandists can safely declare it a joke.
What are interesting and telling, however, are not Beijing’s words, but its actions. Arrest harmless lawyers in the name of stability, send thousands of cops out to confront a handful of young romantics with Nile fever and – can you get more pathetic than this? – ban the word ‘jasmine’ on the Internet. The Liaison Office’s Hao mentions a “high degree of confidence” in the central government, but it is clear that China’s leaders do not share this optimistic assessment of themselves. They are scared of their own people, nervous about what might leak in from the rest of the world and apparently petrified that their whole grand edifice could collapse in on them at any moment. Either they are delusional paranoiacs, or they know something we don’t.