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Could North Africa be the start of a revolution in China?

The unrest in Tunisia and Egypt is proof that political change can come quickly. That is what has China at the edge of its seat.

China's Marxists are worried that protests in Egypt could trigger something similar in China

China's Marxists are worried that protests in Egypt could trigger something similar in China

The mass demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt have China at the edge of its seat. Critics of the Commuist Party still remember scenes from 1989, when hundreds of thousands of Chinese students occupied Tienanmen Square for months, peacefully demanding political reforms. But the protests turned violent when the military started firing into the crowd. 22 years later, Chinese state-censored media is not reporting on everything surrounding the current events in North Africa.

But internet experts in China have a way of getting around censored media, so some have been catching wind of what is really happening in North Africa.

Anti-government protesters celebrated when Mubarak stepped down

Anti-government protesters celebrated when Mubarak stepped down

The internet can trigger protest

Mao Xianghui, an internet user in China, sees hope in the demonstrations. He told Deutsche Welle, "The democracy movement in Egypt has definitely become an international movement." He added "but in China the circumstances are a bit different. Our problem is state censorship, which aims at subverting protests. But one thing is for sure and that is on the internet, shared thoughts and feelings can accumulate and trigger protests in the blink of an eye."

22 years ago, free thinkers, especially young students in China, didn't have the internet because it didn't exist as a public platform. They had to rely on peaceful demonstrations to create change. They tried this at Tienanmen Square, the very symbol of the Communist Party’s political power. But instead of hearing their demands, the government ordered the military to shoot at the crowd. Up to 3,000 people died in what is known as the Tienanmen Massacre.

In what started out as peaceful demonstrations, Chinese students occupied Tienanmen for months on end

In what started out as peaceful demonstrations, Chinese students occupied Tienanmen for months on end

Marxists worried

While free thinkers are able to voice their views in North Africa, Chinese Marxists are worried.

One such Marxist and vocal chord of the Party, Sima Nan, warned that China, too, could soon see a similar color or flower revolution. Sima Nan has written in his blog, "we must not forget that we in China also have social networking systems that are ready to sell our country out to the West at any time. We have foundations here in China into which the capitalists pay money to, as they say, 'help political reform.' And let us not forget that we have our own problems here in China, like soaring prices that make it next to impossible for anyone to buy a house, see a doctor or go to a better school. On top of that there is also corruption – reason enough to start mass protests. If we do nothing to stop it, we could soon have a situation like in Tunisia or Egypt right here in China!"

Strangely, intellectuals in China, whether liberal or Marxist, are talking like China will be the next the country to have a peaceful revolution. But they are forgetting one key aspect: As long as the people are content, there is no need for revolution. Or is there? With increasing financial prosperity, China’s middle class is demanding more political say.

The peaceful demonstrations at Tienanmen Square turned bloody in July as the military was ordered to open fire into the crowd

The peaceful demonstrations at Tienanmen Square turned bloody in July as the military was ordered to open fire into the crowd

"Political power comes from the barrel of a gun"

But rights activist and lawyer Mo Zhixu remembers what happened in Tiananmen Square and believes that it is holding many back. He said China and Egypt are very similar when it comes to the relationship between the army and the government. "Both countries have been ruled by isolated autocratic regimes for years. I don’t see any large movements happening in China any time soon. And if there were any movements, they would surely not make direct demands of the power structures, we would need other conditions for that. But as long as the government remains an isolated, autocratic system, it is just a matter of time…"

Political power comes from the barrel of a gun, that was one of Mao Zedong’s favorite sayings. There is no reason to suppose that the Communist Party has given up this doctrine.

Author: Shi Ming (sb)
Editor: Grahame Lucas

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