By René Wadlow
An empty white page held high has become the symbol of protest in the manifestations currently spreading to different parts of China. Just as the cry “Women-Life- Liberty “, women cutting their long hair in public, and the burning of the mandatory veil have become the symbols of protest in Iran, so the empty white page is the outward manifestation of a long frustration of the inability to express ideas that are not those of the Communist Party of China and its leader Xi Jinping.
As James Connolly, a leader of the 1916 Dublin, Ireland Easter uprising wrote ” No revolutionary movement is complete without its political expression. If such a movement has caught hold of the imagination of the masses, they will seek a vent in song for the aspirations, the fears and the hopes, the loves and the hatreds engendered by the struggle. Until the movement is marked by the joyous, defiant singing of revolutionary songs, it lacks one of the most distinctive marks of a popular revolutionary movement.”
The Iranian chant “Women-Life-Liberty” constantly repeated could be considered as a revolutionary song. In China, some of the protesters sing L’Internationale, the model of the revolutionary song. Gene Sharp, a theorist of nonviolent political change now often called “Political Defiance” said that such types of protest such as music are so unorthodox that the police do not know what to do. This type of activity enables resistance to continue when larger bases for resistance have been neutralized, controlled, or destroyed.
The Chinese government has responded to the protests in its usual way: blaming foreign agitators, arresting a large number of people with the police going to the homes of potential protesters and warning of arrests if they go out. Control of the social media and censorship has increased. Government ideology has been increased within schools and universities. Government repression in Iran and in China are very much the same even if their ideological foundations are very different.
The manifestations have highlighted a generational gap. Youth who have never known other forms of government have taken a lead in the protests. Although the social media has been censored, youth find ways of communicating among themselves.
One technique of the Chinese government is to mention the least possible the manifestations. “Move on, there is nothing to see here” is the order of the day. However, the manifestations have the potential of bringing the causes of the conflicts to the light of day. It is difficult to know in advance how long the manifestations will go on, to what extent the demands for change will evolve, and what type of response beyond repression the government will take. A situation to watch as closely as possible.
Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens