K. Mennem 6:15 p.m., May 21
2012 – Another 1989 for Red China?
The recent elections in the Republic of China (commonly known as Taiwan) have been covered in the mainland’s People’s Republic of China with indifference with regards to censorship. All news outlets in the P.R.C. had to follow Xinhua’s coverage of the elections, which had to follow the Communist Party’s official views – democracy is not beneficial to the Chinese people, the R.O.C. is a breakaway province of the mainland administration, and the R.O.C. is a democracy. The limit of the censorship was this: Xinhua and the other news outlets could not use the terms “democracy” or “president,” and the media had to cast the elections as local elections that occur regularly in the provinces of the mainland.
However, the hands-off approach of the Internet censors has sparked an online wave of youthful pro-democracy activists who have been following the R.O.C. elections closely. This apathy on the part of the censors threatens the entire communist system of the P.R.C. and, if the communist government wants to survive another Tiananmen Square (in an age where cell phones can capture video and post it to YouTube and Facebook with the push of a button), the regime better take this seriously.
A political science professor at Renmin University said of the elections, “It’s all anyone on [Sina] Weibo are talking about,” Sina Weibo being a P.R.C. authorized social network site. According to the New York Times, many of the site’s members were amazed at how the voting process went so smoothly, how the losing candidate conceded defeat without much debate, and how the winner gave his acceptance speech in the rain without the umbrella of an underling. Such humilities are not attributes of the P.R.C.’s communist officials’ behavior.
Several prominent mainland Chinese businessmen flew to the R.O.C. to witness the elections first hand. One, speaking under conditions of anonymity, told New York Times reporters Andrew Jacobs and Li Bibo, “This is an amazing idea, to choose the people who represent you. I think democracy will come to [mainland] China. It’s only a matter of time.”
This man is not alone in his views. All over the Internet in the P.R.C., Chinese bloggers and social network users made jokes about their own leaders, while conveying envy for the people of the R.O.C. and their right to vote for their national leader. One even said, “On the other side of the sea, Taiwan erected a mirror. And on this side of the sea, we saw ourselves in the future.”
Normally, comments like this would have landed the poster in a laogai (labor camp). However, the communist government’s Internet monitors have been slow to catch-up with this ever-evolving medium. As the youth become more tech-savvy, the older generations working in the censorship bureau are “surfing blind.”
But this phenomenon is not limited to the Internet. Several print media outlets have also challenged the authorities. An editor for a large daily on the mainland stated all media outlets had to print Xinhua’s account of the story, however “no one told us we couldn’t put the election on the front page, so that’s what we did.”
If the communist regime does crackdown on the inefficiencies of its censors, which I personally hope it does not, it will be facing another uprising on the scale equal to or larger than the 1989 uprising centered around Tiananmen Square. The blatant “subversive acts” against the government are not only evidence of the average citizens’ want for political reform, but also a grave threat to the entire government.
The precedent for this imminent uprising has been set as recently as a few short weeks ago, when the villagers of Wukan emerged victorious in a protest against the communist authorities and against a land-grab plot on Dec. 27, 2011. The villagers expelled their Party officials, and the leader of the village was just named the head of the local Communist Party rather than thrown into a laogai to serve as an example.
The fact that the communist government blinked first at Wukan and now with the shoddy censorship of the R.O.C.’s elections is a message to all mainlanders that reads: “The communist government is not all powerful.” Hopefully, the populace will receive this message and embark on their own bid for democratization. I hope 2012 will be the new 1989.
Either way, the United States government, unfortunately, is likely going to respond in the same manner as it did in 1989 – our leaders will condemn the violent crackdown committed by the regime, only to bestow the highly coveted status of Most-Favored Nation (regarding international trade) later on. The search for stability, rather than democracy, has always been, currently is, and will always be the Achilles’ heel of the U.S. government in its stated foreign policy goals.