As Egypt and Tunisia have shown, authoritarian regimes are not especially suited for the Internet age. And China’s tyrants are the latest hard-line despots dealing with this disturbing truth, as they reacted on Sunday to a web campaign calling for a Middle Eastern-style “Jasmine Revolution” with a massive show of force countrywide. Fearing Tunisia’s and Egypt’s Internet-guided uprisings were about to emerge within their borders, Chinese security agencies arrested dozens of anti-government activists and human rights advocates.
“Many human rights defenders have disappeared in recent days, others are under house arrest and their mobile phones are blocked,” a human rights lawyer said.
The security officials’ quick and overwhelming response to the website call for anti-government protests proves that despite all its substantial efforts to control the Internet, the Chinese government has not succeeded in its goal. But more importantly, the regime’s immediate crackdown and the scale of its response demonstrate that the danger of unrest in China and the country’s internal weakness (despite its outward economic strength) must be greater than imagined, making future disturbances almost a certainty.
According to the New York Times, the organizers of Sunday’s protest campaign are unknown. But the messages calling for demonstrations in China first appeared “on a Chinese-language website based in the United States,” which named 13 cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, and sites where protesters should gather. Demonstrators were also urged to yell out: ‘We want work. We want food to eat. We want housing.” as well as “Long live freedom!” and “Long live democracy!” However, police showed up in such large numbers at all the designated areas, it was impossible for the events to go forward.
Unrest is growing in China due to corrupt officials, rising food prices and lack of suitable housing. Although the Party vigorously attacks corruption, ordinary Chinese still feel victimised by an uncaring and often cruel and exploitative bureaucracy and police force.
One analyst, Robert Hartmann, writes that it is no secret some Chinese officials often buy their posts, knowing the bribes they pocket will far exceed the money they paid.
Those Chinese who cannot afford to pay bribes to such officials would naturally suffer.
“A notorious example is Xu Zongheng, the mayor of Shenzhen between 2005 and 2009,” Hartmann relates. “He has been charged with buying his position and taking bribes adding up to two billion yuan (US $300 million).”
Another major complaint against the regime comes from people who have been turned out of their homes or forced off their land with little compensation by officials who intend to put the property to more profitable use. An indication of the extent of the frustration felt by such unfair treatment at the hands of Chinese bureaucrats manifested itself in a well-known and horrifying incident in Henan province in 2009. A worker seeking compensation from his employer, Hartmann writes, cut his chest open to prove he had a “work-related lung illness.”