China 2011: From Jasmine Crackdowns to Grassroots Uprisings

2011 began with a series of crackdowns by the Chinese authorities to prevent the Arab Jasmine Revolution from landing in mainland China. It ended with a series of uprisings in grassroots communities where people have been devastated by corrupt local governments and illegal land acquisitions.

Jasmine crackdowns

The Jasmine uprising in the Arab world has reminded the Chinese people of their own political history in fighting against authoritarian rule. The downfall of Mubarak in Egypt has of course alerted the illegitimate authoritarian regime in China.

Without confronting any real threat, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) started off the year with a heavy-handed crackdown, targeting online opinion leaders and human rights activists in February 2011. Amongst them are blogger-activist Liu Di, prominent artist-activist Ai Weiwei, Sichuan writer Ran Yunfei, Shanghai lawyer Li Tiantian, Sichuan legal activist Li Shuangde and Beijing activist Wang Lihong.

Christian Bale, image from Weibo

Christian Bale, image from Weibo

Even though the atmosphere has been tense, info-activists continued to campaign for all the political detainees. The Free Chen Guangcheng campaign has been ongoing for months since September 2011, and the most recent development was actor-activist Christian Bale's rough encounter with village guards when he attempted to pay Chen a visit.

Grassroots conflicts

Social conflicts kept bursting in on the grassroots communities throughout 2011. The first case at the beginning of the year was the citizen investigation of the suspected murder of Qian Yunhui, a village head in Zhejiang province who opposed forced land acquisitions in Yueqing county. While official investigation concluded it as an accident, many netizens believed that it was a murder as the county government has too much embedded interests in the developmental projects.

While rural areas were ruined by land seizure, urban areas were threatened by property bubbles. The majority of city dwellers believed that the government should introduce policy to cool down the property market. They displayed their anger towards the unrealistic Communist Party propaganda, which claimed that generous rental subsidies are available to help low-income families in Beijing.

Instead of helping the poor, many cities have adopted the policy to clear the “unwanted” people. The income disparity and social injustice has resulted in bitter resentment among the “unwanted” poor towards the rich and the government officials.

Netizens’ reactions on the murder case of Yao Jiaxin reflected the popular feeling. Taxi drivers were among the first social groups to taste the effect of inflation on their living. On the other hand, as the society became more unstable and the economy was taking a downturn, the rich fled, bosses run away and civil servants committed suicides.

Children are the most vulnerable social group in such an unjust society. In the rural areas, 58 million children have been left behind by their parents, who went to the cities in search of jobs. Many became the victims of kidnapping. Most terribly, child rapists are protected by the “underage prostitution law”.

Food safety remains an unresolved problem. Poisonous milk scandals kept popping up throughout the year. Mainland Chinese crossing the border for milk powder has resulted in a shortage in Hong Kong. When Japan was facing a nuclear radiation crisis after the earthquake, Chinese people's immediate response was the panic buying of sea salt. However, the impact of radiation is probably less than that of the chemicals found in watermelons and vinegar.

Overdevelopment and uprisings

Many of the grassroots conflicts were the results of unrestrained development. The impact of the construction of the Three Gorges Dam on the country's environment is yet to be evaluated.

Thousands of people blocked the entrance of an express road. Photos widely circulated in Weibo.

Thousands of people blocked the entrance of an express road. Photos widely circulated in Weibo.

In August, a large scale not-in-my-backyard mobilization took place in Dalian and the local government was forced to accept residents’ demand to relocate a chemical factory. The year ended with two successful uprisings in Guangdong province at Wukan and Haimen. Both were against major developmental projects which generated profit by seizing people's land.

China Model

On one hand, the Chinese authority is very proud of the rise of China as a strong nation. A number of movies, such as Beginning of the Great Revival, have been produced to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the CCP.

On the other hand, in order to confront social and political discontents without harsh repressions, the CCP tries to explore different governance models to solve its legitimacy crisis. Some scholars advocated the restoration of Confucianism as the state ideology.

The CCP is unwilling to give up its one-party dictatorship model and introduce political reform. It prefers brainwashing education and red propaganda rather than rational change of the political process, and depends on the stability machine for maintaining social and political order. Thus, rights defense actions were taken as insane, independent candidates’ campaigns in local elections were suppressed, micro-blogging platforms were under attack, and activists were subject to daily monitoring.

The China Model seemed to have entered Hong Kong with the visit of China's future premier Li Keqiang in August 2011. It is the first time in the city's history that a citizen was arrested for wearing a political T-shirt.


The costly space race tells Chinese people and the world that the nation is on the rise. Yet in terms of international politics, some scholars believe that China is being boxed-in geopolitically. The Mekong river massacre and the U.S diplomatic strategy in Asia Pacific have alerted the nationalists of China's marginalized diplomatic position in the world.

However, the imaginary enemy game can never solve the internal social conflicts. Even though some intellectuals may find another revolution too remote and unrealistic, democracy and freedom have definitely become an aspiration of the commons in the year of the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution.


  • […] Voices: China 2011: From Jasmine Crackdowns to Grassroots Uprisings. TwitternDieser Eintrag wurde veröffentlicht in Digital Rights, Digitalkultur. Bookmarken: […]

  • “Crackdowns”? “Revolution”? These are fantasies of the Western media, unworthy of Global Voices.
    China has plenty of problems, but this article misunderstands and misrepresent them.
    The Chinese government enjoys a level of support and trust from its people unmatched by any government on earth. Here are some of its achievements in the past 10 years:
    1. Reduced poverty by 25% AND raised the poverty threshold (thus increasing eligibility for aid for millions of poor Chinese).
    2. Implemented a national health scheme and enrolled 1.3 billion people in it.
    3. Built the highly successfulmThree Gorges Dam–on time and on budget. More than half that budget was spent on building new homes, villages, and towns to accommodate those displaced.
    4. Constructed the Tibet-Quinghai Railway, the greatest feat of railway engineering in history.
    5. Constructed the longest, fastest, most financially successful (and, after Japan, safest) high-speed rail system on earth.
    6. Won the hearts and minds of the Chinese people: 86% of the trust the government (Edelman) and 85% approve of its policies (Pew).

    There is no need for “crackdowns” and no need for handwringing about “human rights”. Most “human rights” activists so beloved by our media, like Wen Xiabao and Ai Weiwei, were demonstrably on CIA (NED) payrolls and would, had they been US citizens, be serving long prison terms there for the offences they committed in China.

  • StupidSolutions

    @Godfree, pls explain,
    1. China invasion of Tibet.
    2. China supporting North Korean government.
    3. The continued dispute with India over Aksai Chin and supporting Pakistan through arms.
    4. Discrimination of women in China.
    5. Uigher problems in North West China.
    6. Three-Gorges dam has affect farmers in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
    7. Hukou policy

    and the list goes on…Just start with the 7 above.

  • […] to national security”. The police action was believed to be part of the crackdown of the call for Chinese Jasmine Revolution inspired by the Arab Spring. Ai was detained for 81 days in a secret spot and interrogated more […]

  • […] vormen. De actie van de politie zou onderdeel uitmaken van de het optreden van de overheid tegen de oproep voor een Chinese Jasmijnrevolutie [en], die was geïnspireerd door de Arabische Lente. Ai werd 81 dagen vastgehouden op een geheime […]

  • […] 去年四月三日艾未未在北京机场被控“危害国家安全”为藉口遭到逮捕。据信公安的行动被认为是防范响应阿拉伯之春的中国茉莉花革命镇压行动之一。艾未 6410;遭到秘密拘留达81天并被冠上煽动国家叛乱、经济缺失、逃税、散布不雅及猥亵照片、重婚、非法套汇等罪名受到超过50次的审讯。 […]

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