The Revolution That Wasn’t

Late last night, I noticed that calls for large protests in several major Chinese cities were circulating on Twitter. Using the hashtag #cn220, users were reposting information from the overseas Chinese website Boxun, where an anonymous user had called for a Chinese “Jasmine Revolution.” This morning, those reports were mixed with reports that police and the military had already begun to form up in the locations designated for protest around the country. Naturally, I decided it would be a good idea to grab a camera and head to the Wangfujing area, where Beijing’s protest was supposed to happen.

I should note that I didn’t actually expect to find much. This news was being passed around almost exclusively on websites blocked in China, and many of the people making tweets seemed to be making them from outside China. There were people announcing that China’s jasmine revolution had begun at 11 in the morning, three hours before the protests were even supposed to start. But very few Chinese people had even heard about it, and many of the Chinese twitter users I follow said they had already been threatened, detained, or otherwise instructed not to go by police or Party authorities.

When we arrived, around 1:40, there was already a small group of people clustered around the entrance to McDonalds, the area designated online as the center of the protest. Most of them were carrying expensive photo or video cameras, and it was clear that a good percentage of the crowd was journalists.

I met up with a couple foreign correspondents I happen to know who had arrived slightly before me. We joked for a little whole about the “revolutionary” atmosphere, or lack thereof, and the ridiculousness of the growing crowd of people, photographing itself. Of course, we were also participants.

A little after 2pm, the crowd reached its largest, perhaps two or three hundred people, although there were people coming and leaving all the time because Wangfujing is naturally a fairly busy place. Aside from one moment, where we could see a bouquet of flowers fly above the heads of the center of the crowd–perhaps they were jasmine flowers?–I saw nothing at any point that could be considered protesting. No one shouted slogans, no one held signs, it was just a group of people standing around photographing each other.

Of course, the crowd drew an increasingly heavy police presence, and they herded people around the area for more than an hour before managing to more or less clear the place out. At one point, they drove everyone from in front of the McDonalds, so the crowd moved along the building’s side, blocking the road there, at which point the police herded everyone back in front of the McDonalds.

For the most part, the police showed surprising restraint, at least for Chinese cops. I saw no incidents of violence, although I did overhear an argument between a citizen and a police officer who had confiscated the man’s cell phone, and I did personally get into a shouting match with a police officer who shoved me. There were other reports of roughhousing, but nothing more than a bit of shoving and pushing.

After an hour or so, we left. There were still some people hanging around, but it was clear that everyone was waiting to see what would happen and no one was going to actually do anything. Even the police were getting bored. As we left, we passed a large group of them and overheard their commander say “Back to normal!” As we walked down the stairs and into the subway station, they piled into their vans and began to drive away.

It’s clear that if change will come to China, it will come from within. A revolution cannot be hoped or tweeted into existence by overseas Chinese, or overzealous Twitter fans drunk off their so-called victories in North Africa.

As a side note, I continue to marvel at the Beijing police’s ability to take nothing and turn it into an incident. Had they not come out in such large numbers and not tried to force people to leave, I suspect this would have been an even smaller “protest”.

0 thoughts on “The Revolution That Wasn’t”

  1. the bill

    China may be ‘stable’ now, but this kind of stability comes at the cost of future chaos. The illusory stability the Chinese communist dictatorship has created through repression and massacre cannot be sustained. The apparent stability today in Beijing, Shanghai and other large cities has been purchased by accumulating a deficit in terms of the future legitimacy of the central authorities. As for all such political deficits, some day the bill will come due.

    Fang Lizhi, 1999

    Ap. One immense prison (blogspot)


  2. Fang Lishi’s line of logic is idealism 唯心主义when materialism
    唯物主义is the mainstream thinking in China.

    One has to admit that there are anti-China elements who have been hoping for the disintegration of China. They will be utterly disappointed. The state of the Chinese Union has never been stronger.


  3. Mindful of Albert Einstein’s injunction that to be silent in the face of injustice is to be an accomplice to evil, my airing of these thoughts has much less to do with any unique insights of mine than with the need to express publicly what many people are thinking privately.

    Fang Lizhi, 1988


  4. Albert Einstein’s words are highly intelligent but so are Karl Marx’s and Deng Xiaoping’s. To understand how the masses in China are thinking privately, it is necessary to do an objective survey on the 1.3 billion people of China and not just using imagination based on some self-proclaimed values. Western politicians and media have been miserably wrong since 1949 in predicting what would happen in China simply they have never been able to understand what the Chinese people are thinking. They still do not and hence will continue to be wrong.


  5. “唯物主义is the mainstream thinking in China”,“One has to admit that there are anti-China elements who have been hoping for the disintegration of China. They will be utterly disappointed. The state of the Chinese Union has never been stronger.”
    ,ha ha ha…..不错,翻译的真好,咱的伟大的共产党的思想政治教材里的句子啊。。。
    (if i had a big house in Australia,i would be very glad to believe it…)


  6. “Jasmine Revolution” is a poetic term invented by the Western politicians and press to instigate unrest in the Middle East and North Africa for the purpose of controlling the oil supply in that region. The same term Jasmine 茉莉花, when used in China, means the fragrant Chinese tea enjoyed by the Chinese people. Fang Lizhi keeps on praying and hoping that China will become chaotic, even when China enjoys the best and most stable environment among the major countries in the world. On should also remember Albert Einstein’s saying : “insanity means keep repeating the same thing and hope for different results”.

    With huge debts and no solution in sight, I am more concerned about the collapse of the Western societies. I am also more concerned about the violent social unrest and riots in Europe and America, including the Occupy Street Movement protests, than I am on those in China.

    The person who aspires to have a big house in Australia should work hard for it.


  7. The problem with the chinese is they work to hard and americans don’t like that,the americans have been bagging china since the 1960’s make no mistake america is an evil empire,never to be trusted.


  8. Like South Africa’s Apartheid regime in the past, China is now the world’s biggest democratic battleground. We have Liu Xiaobo, the blind civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng, the artist Ai Weiwei, the human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng and others. We also have the hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens online and in the real world, who are fighting courageously for their civil rights. China’s democratization concerns the whole world.

    Hu Jia 胡佳


  9. I hope the international community will investigate into the dozens of illegal military actions taken by the many US presidents since WW II which have killed tens of millions of innocent civilians in many countries in the world, done invariably in the name of democracy, human rights, freedom, humanitarianism. They should be tried, and if convicted, should be punished for their acts of crime against humanity.


  10. Any Chinese who plea for another countries(former colonial powers) to change China is traitor and need to be shot. Sorry but that is the truth.


  11. China has had 2 revolutions in less than 40 years, the first one in 1911 when the first Chinese republic was founded and the second in 1949 when the Communists seized power. China does not need any more revolutions. It needs a steady and harmonious society conducive to its continued development. China will evolve as it develops. No more revolutions.


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