Herds of police officers moved in on gatherings in two Chinese cities on the weekend and, while calling for more social harmony, the government is cracking down on internet search results even harder.
Chinese police officers stand ready to divert the planned protest in Beijing
The Chinese government is undoubtedly nervous. Just weeks before the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, China’s pseudo-parliament, Communist Party leaders are trying to stamp out all possible protests and demonstrations before they can take off. Dozens of activists were put under house arrest this past weekend and Teng Biao, a well-known lawyer, went missing on Friday.
A policeman, center, urges people to leave as they gather at the planned protest site in Beijing's Wangfujing Street
His wife, Wang Ling, fears for his life, saying, "I am so worried. My husband was summoned to questioning and didn’t return home after that. Police came to our home in the middle of the night and seized computers, books and our fax machine."
Due to tight security measures, half a dozen activists and dissident intellectuals have not been able to speak openly to the outside world since Monday. Some have even had their telephones completely cut off.
Call for a revolution
What triggered the authorities’ crack down were internet calls for a Jasmine Revolution, inspired by recent events in the Arab world. It is unknown who originally called for the revolution, as it had been posted on a website outside of China. In Beijing and Shanghai, hundreds responded to the call by gathering in public squares on Sunday.
Following a mysterious online call for a "Jasmine Revolution", there seemed to be more police than protesters
Hoards of policemen tried to disperse a few hundred people near a fast food restaurant in one of Beijing’s main shopping streets, the Wangfujing. It was not a real demonstration – there were no banners or placards and nobody was shouting slogans or anything at all. It was thus virtually impossible to determine who had come to protest and who had come out of curiosity.
But when someone threw a white jasmine flower on the street, the police responded immediately and tried to detain the young man who had thrown it.
Surrounded by journalists, the man said, "I just happened to be passing by. I only wanted to pick up a few flowers that were lying on the ground. How can they arrest me for that?"
In the end, the young man was allowed to go and two others were arrested instead. There were similar scenes in Shanghai, with police forces, uniformed and in plain clothes, closely monitoring the situation. According to onlookers, Shanghai police also made arrests.
Images of the Tiananmen Massacre have remained in the collective memory as a warning against uprising
The large presence of police, intimidation and the strict censorship of all media make it seem that large protests will not be possible any time soon in China. But the government is getting nervous – comments made by top politicians on the weekend made that obvious. President Hu called for political cadres to reduce "inharmonious factors" in society, to get better control over the internet and to guide public opinion more efficiently.
The word "molihua", which means jasmine, has already been blocked from Chinese search engines. And the word has been banned from blogs and microblogs since the weekend. The authorities have taken these measures to prevent knowledge about current events in the Arab world from circulating and stamp out all possible discussion and comparison with China.
Author: Ruth Kirchner (sb)
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein