By Dr. B. R. Deepak
The ‘Jasmine Revolution’ (JR) that began in Tunisia and spread like a prairie fire to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria, Jordan and Oman etc. Middle East dictatorial regimes has also made its reverberations felt in China and made the authorities jittery and nervous. The organizers of the JR are primarily overseas Chinese inciting the Chinese people to follow the JR suit in China, and demand freedom and democracy, political reforms and an end to the one party rule. Even Ma Yingjiu, the Taiwanese president resonated during the commemoration ceremony of the February 28 Incident , infamous for Kuomintang’s white terror in Taiwan that the incidents starting from the 2.28 and right up to the recent turbulent Jasmine Revolution around the world, is a reflection of peoples struggle for the protection of their human rights and democratic freedoms.
During the initial phase, starting from February 20, 2011, the organizers of the JR called for demonstrations in the 13 cities across China. The protests failed to take place in most of the cities except the downtowns of Beijing and Shanghai. In the second phase, they have asked their supporters to ‘go for a stroll’ in 23 second tier cities across China and express their displeasure at the lack of political reforms and rampant corruption. The government has been swift in banning the word ‘Jasmine’ over the internet, and harsh in putting down the dissent wherever there is a slight brewing. Many protesters including a Chengdu based writer and blogger, Ran Yafei has been held on charges of ‘subversion of state authority.’ Zhou Yongkang, a 9th ranking Politburo Standing Committee member of the Communist Party of China, who has also served as the Minister of Public Security between 2002 and 2007 urged to senior officials recently that they must improve the ‘social management’ and ‘detect conflicts and problems early on.’ Ma Zhaoxu, Spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs even went on urging Libya to restore ‘social stability’ at the earliest in a recent news briefing.
Why China has been so nervous about the JR and public protests? The findings of various researchers, western as well as Chinese, including the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the biggest government think-tank shows that China has been witnessing between 80,000 and 90,000 cases of mass protests every year since 2006, and Zhou Yongkang the then Minister of Public Security has admitted this in public. The forms of protests have been parades, demonstrations, sit-ins, petitions, and in extreme cases self immolations. The situation has been largely ameliorated thanks to the abolition of agricultural tax and levies legislation in 2006. The root cause of these protests have been expanding social imbalances, especially the rural urban divide, official highhandedness, corruption, violation of laws, land fragmentation, land acquisition leading to forced evictions, unemployment, unnecessary cadre strength in the countryside, environmental hazards etc. issues. In the last decade alone, China lost some 10 million hectares of arable land primarily owing to construction, agriculture restructuring, afforestation and natural calamities. The equitable distribution of the land among the peasants is a thing of the past, new rural population those who are already adults are landless and only option for these young people is to be the migrant laborers. Owing to the discriminatory nature of the ‘permanent residency’ regime, they are orphans in the cities and cannot enjoy and afford basic human needs such as health and education in the cities for their wards.
These have factored in various social evils of loot arson and killing as well as some other societal disorders such as a local clinic doctor, stabbing eight students to death and injuring five others in a primary school in Fujian province last year; a man barging into a kindergarten in Jiangsu province and wounded 32 students with a knife on April 29, 2010; another person killing seven children and two women in a kindergarten in Shaanxi province in the same year, and the list goes on. In view of these incidents, the government has opened various ‘stability maintenance’ offices in migrant labor community dwellings in various cities. These ‘offices’ handle minor disputes and complaints, and reports greater risks of unrest to higher authorities. The ‘offices’ also provide help to the wards of migrant laborers in terms of education and day care facilities for smaller children. According to the statistics provided by the municipal government of Guangzhou, the municipality spent over 650 million dollars in maintaining ‘social stability’ in 2007, which was more than the money spent on social security in the same year.
Social stability in China not only impinges on domestic and economic stability but also on China’s foreign exchange policy. In the words of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, “if the Yuan saw a one-off large appreciation that would cause many closures of our processing enterprises and make many export orders shift to other countries and many of our workers will lose jobs.” The loss of jobs would translate into more ‘mass protests’ in China and impact on social stability. At present China is spending exorbitant amounts on public security. Forget about JR calls, any small gathering at any place across China makes China nervous.
History of the mankind reveals that social problems cannot be solved by force. The state can suppress or silence the issue for time being, but would resurface and abrupt with a greater force if left unattended. In order to ameliorate the situation, only way out to do away with some of the social imbalances is by initiating uniform permanent residency and employment system, uniform rural urban property, education and health rather social guarantee system, reasonable distribution of the financial capital in rural and urban areas etc. measures. These measures may temporarily reduce the scale of the dissent; however, will not put an end to these. Guoyu, a classic entailing earliest history of some of the Chinese states between 990BC -453BC has a following piece that is equally relevant even today. Shao Mugong, a minister of emperor Li of Zhou kingdom tries to reason it out with the emperor that he should let the people to exercise their right of freedom to speech. He tells the emperor that one cannot silence the people by terror and highhandedness, for to shut peoples’ mouth is more dangerous than clogging the waters of a river. A clogged river will break it dykes and bring misery to many a people. We harness a river by making canals so that water flows smoothly. In order to govern the people, the ruler must not interfere in their affairs, allow them to express themselves … how can you cork their mouths, and for how long? The emperor did not care much for his minister’s advice, the people rose in revolt and the emperor was forced to live in exile.
The author is the Professor of Chinese and the Dean of Languages of School of Language, Doon University, Dehradun. He can be reached at [email protected]