While the central government is busy rounding up everyone who might have once glanced at Ai Weiwei, and simultaneously instituting what appears to be some kind of “no lawyer left behind” detention policy, the rest of China is mostly ignoring it. That’s not a surprise, of course; it isn’t being reported in the media aside from the occasional screeching prose of the state-media’s shrillest news organs, which no one reads anyway.
Whether Ai is guilty or not; whether these other lawyers and writers and “dissidents” are guilty or not, they aren’t an actual threat to China or to CCP rule. Neither was the Jasmine Revolution, which — shock! — wasn’t orchestrated by any of the people they’re now rounding up anyway.
What could be a threat is the growing tension between the privileged and the non-privileged classes, the haves and the have-nots, the daguanguiren ((达官贵人)) and the laobaixing ((老百姓)). There is, at present, no push for revolution, no great Westernized uprising. There’s nothing to make a sexy headline out of on CNN. What there is, though, is bubbling dissatisfaction just below the surface of everyday life that bursts out in spurts when the inequities of society make themselves unavoidably obvious.
At present, this happens mostly with car accidents.
Everyone knows, of course, about the Li Gang incident, but there have been many like it, and when conditions are right, what starts as a traffic accident quickly becomes a “mass incident.”
Take for example, this incident in Changchun:
Essentially, what happened is that a police officer driving his own car got angry with an old woman who wouldn’t get out of his way. He eventually got out of the car, argued with the old woman, and then started to beat her, grabbing her by the hair and punching her in the face, according to an interview she gave that’s excerpted at the end of the video. The old woman’s daughter came over and he hit her, too. That was when passers-by started to gather, and they were not amused.
Watch the video. At the 1:00 mark, the narrator says “Rationally, everyone [jumped in] to prevent the [police]man’s crude behavior.” Then the video cuts abruptly to a shot of a mob going absolutely apeshit on the police officer’s car (which he, by that point, was wisely hiding inside). Even after police arrived, they kept smashing the car, and began chanting “Apologize, apologize!” Several scuffles with police occurred. Hours later, after police unsuccessfully tried to get the mob to disperse, the police finally got the man out of his car and into a waiting police van (2:19, note the people in the background still fighting to break through the police lines and attack him).
Of course, there’s more to this than privileged versus commoner (he was also beating an elderly woman, which wouldn’t win him many friends regardless of the prevailing mood of the time in any society). But the old woman he beat puts it in terms of haves and have-nots, and apparently so did the policeman. She says he told her it didn’t matter if he beat her to death or not, he could afford to pay the compensation money. She also said he looked down on thelaobaixing, the common people.
This is, of course, an isolated incident. But this kind of thing happens a lot, and moreover, it obviously speaks to deeper issues. Unsurprisingly, it spread quickly across the internet, and has been reposted many times already. This posting on 56.com, for example, has already been viewed over half a million times. So has another posting of the same video on the same site. This one, on 6.com, has over 600,000 viewings.
What’s most telling about this video is not the comments, which call for the offending officer’s head on a platter, and many of which also condemn police officers and public servants in general for their increasing lack of concern for the common people. No, what’s most interesting about this video is that it’s from early December 2010, but it’s still being passed around on Chinese social networks today.
These stories keep getting passed around beyond their news shelf life, I suspect, because they are tapping into an increasingly common feeling of anger and exploitation among those who really are laobaixing. The story may be from December, but the feeling is as widespread today as it was then, probably moreso.
Are people about to take to the streets and launch a second Communist revolution to overthrow the new bourgeoisie? Absolutely not. But instead of harassing innocent dissidents and their lawyers, China’s leadership would do well to pay more attention to these issues.
Ai Weiwei may prove to foreigners that there’s no rule of law in China, but most Chinese don’t know or care. What they care about are cases like this, and little by little, the police and the businessmen and the chengguan and the officials — all agents of the government and the Party — seem to be doing their best to drill home the message: we do not care about you.