Are we in Beijing or Boston?

Andy R

Protest Zones?

It seems Beijing is taking a cue from Boston’s strategy of using “Free Speech Zones” to “quarantine” protestors during the Republican National Convention in 2004.

Well, this is better than nothing at all, and hopefully it will help ensure the safety of those who would like to express their opinions publicly in Beijing. (Either that, or make protesters an easier target for water cannons/rubber bullets/tear gas or whatever else Beijing has up its sleeve to prevent the airing of controversial views during the games.)

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 26 Comments

You have to read this with another announcement: That there will be major crack down on advertising during this period:
1. anything about sovereignty of China, and integrity of Chinese territories (i.e. Xinjiang, Tibet, Hui, Taiwan, etc)
2. anything about race, nationalities, religion (i.e. Lama, Buddhist, Islam, Christian, Tibetan, Hui, Uighur, black, …)
3. sales and money collection
4. anything about Olympics (torch, etc.)
5. anything about earthquakes, disaster rescue, disaster reconstruction (e.g. Sichuan, earthquate, tofu, corruption, bribes, …)
6. drugs and related topics (bad drugs…)

Please note that anything you put on a protest sign can be considered “advertising”. What can you protest about ?

July 23, 2008 @ 11:32 pm | Comment

“Either that, or make protesters an easier target for water cannons/rubber bullets/tear gas or whatever else Beijing has up its sleeve to prevent the airing of controversial views during the games.”

What a great idea! Many thanks.

Yours faithfully.

CCP Harmonizing department

;-)

July 23, 2008 @ 11:58 pm | Comment

This report has some data of relevance:

http://pewglobal.org/reports/pdf/261.pdf

Should look at how the data was collected and account for regional variance. Suspect tibetans in TAR and uighurs in xinjiang were not included in the survey, but still given that inflation is a big issue in china right now that it would be in the top ten. Gap between rich and poor, corrupt officials, and air pollution next. Maybe we are not so different after all.

July 24, 2008 @ 12:08 am | Comment

Here in DC it is tradition to go to Lafayette Park behind the Whitehouse to express opinions contrary to official ones. This is okay as long as you don’t try to climb the fence around the white house or break other laws.

It would be good for the CCP if they would allow the public to peacefully communicate opinions contrary to official positions in some public forum. It is really not that bad. No one faults you for maintaining law and order, but you need to allow the feedback of contrary opinion to be voiced somewhere to keep you on the right path.

If you only surround yourself with sycophants and yes men telling you what you want to hear they you end up with someone like Condi being your secretary of state. You really don’t want the CCP to end up looking the Bush Adminstration do you? I know you admire the wealthy business WASP old money charm of the kennebunkport Bushes, but they really are not a good role model for the nouveau riche of China’s coastal areas. Sure the first generation or two is semi-competent, but by the time you get to the junior GW generation your nation will be in dire straights. Best to identify some places where people, like the citizens of Weng’an (or Lhasa) can go to tell you politely that there are incompetent corrupt boobs running the local PSB office or the provincial government HQ needs a serious self crticism session. Without the mechanism for the citizens to provide unhindered or unadulterated (peaceful) feedback it is inevitable that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Which begs the question that maybe it is too late.

July 24, 2008 @ 3:43 am | Comment

Well, this is better than nothing at all

Andy, what makes you think that the Beijing Police will actually agree to any protests? Read the small-print of the announcement – they need to sanction the protests first.

I wouldn’t say that this is better than nothing at all, because if any protests are allowed they will be hidden away and the media probably barred from attending. The whole point of a protest is that they can be seen – I don’t think the Boston “freedom zones” were that good, but at least Police agreement wasn’t needed first.

July 24, 2008 @ 3:58 am | Comment

@Lindel,

Suspect tibetans in TAR and uighurs in xinjiang were not included in the survey

Tibetans represent 0.4% of China’s population, and Uygurs represent about 0.9% of China’s population. Assuming they were not included in the survey as you suspect, how much effect do you think they’d have on the results if they had been?

July 24, 2008 @ 5:40 am | Comment

@Raj

I guess I would agree with Lindel above about the promise of such a move while also noting that it’s announcement is unfortunately late for protesters and conveniently late for the CCP.

In a country where protest is either completely stamped out by the authorities or devolves into a violent riot (like in Weng’an), I would say that the idea of a government sanctioned area for peaceful protest is a somewhat welcome “middle ground” (even if it is only for a brief period).

I agree with your predictions of how this is all going to play out. The CCP is throwing the IOC a bone right at the end in order to smooth things over. However, if these “protest areas” get any more attention (small chance, esp. in Chinese media), maybe they could serve as an example of how China can put on a protest without violence (from the authorities or the protesters), and also give Chinese more confidence to move their grievances from the Internet (a tactic I still see as ineffective) to the street.

July 24, 2008 @ 8:39 am | Comment

@Bill

Good point. But can’t you protest without a sign? I guess we’ll have to leave it to the ingenuity of whoever decides to take advantage of these places to come up with an appropriate strategy. Personally, I think that the best strategy would be to just use signs anyway and see what happens. When people are arrested, it forces the CCP into a bit of a corner: If these zones were set up for people to air their grievances, why then are you preventing them from doing so?

July 24, 2008 @ 9:17 am | Comment

@Lindel

What concerns me more than the minority question, is that the survey was conducted in “disproportionately urban areas” (Knowlton, NYT 7/23/08).

It’s interesting to me that the Chinese recognize the big problems in the country, while being so optimistic about its future. I guess they have faith in the CCP to get everything under control, however, I think the problems that they are most concerned about have been on the radar at least since the 1990′s with little progress. I guess as long as you can buy an Audi, the other problems don’t seem as important.

I just hope China doesn’t make a similar mistake as we did in the States. Through the 1980s and 1990s we talked about our problems like healthcare, education etc., but because of booms in the economy, we seemed to continually put these things off. Of course, now we are facing the consequences of inaction due to economic optimism.

July 24, 2008 @ 9:46 am | Comment

[...] Andy R wrote an interesting post today on Are we in Beijing or Boston?. Here’s a quick excerpt: [...]

July 24, 2008 @ 10:55 am | Pingback

The Beijing police don’t need to do anything, there will be groups of energic, patriotic youth to stand off against and possibly attack protesters in the protest areas.

July 24, 2008 @ 11:22 am | Comment

But will the government allow reporters in the vicinity of these free speech zones?

July 24, 2008 @ 2:08 pm | Comment

Andy, although I understand what you’re saying I think you’re reading too much into this. Chinese already protest if they really feel its necessary. Those that don’t out of fear will not be influenced by rumours that some foreigners were protesting about their own country during the Olympics.

The only way this could “mean” anything is if the Police lose control of the situation and the protestors decide to take their grievances elsewhere.

July 24, 2008 @ 2:50 pm | Comment

this is a joke.

people who want to protest have to apply for a permit 5 days in advance and will be denied a permit based on a voluminous list of factors like “threatening harmony”, encouraging separatism, yadi yadi ya.

in other words, unless you want to protest against mcdonalds or pantyhose or george bush, you probably won’t even get the required permit to protest.

nice try ccp!

July 24, 2008 @ 4:06 pm | Comment

@Raj

Sorry, I’m not going to let you off the hook on this.

“I think you’re reading too much into this”
Maybe so, but this story really came out of left field for me, and I although I am tempted to agree with you, I am going to err on the side of optimism and say that this is bigger than most will make it out to be.

“Chinese already protest if they really feel its necessary.”
Yes, they do. But is they way they have protested in the past effective? Devolving into a “unsanctioned” riot/protest seems to just play into the CCP’s hands, reinforcing their fears that protest=instability, and consequently seeding similar concerns among the general populace. Most country’s “right to protest” is based on an explicit/implicit agreement with the government. Big protests in the US also have to get approval from the local authorities. Basically, I think that this presents a unique opportunity for people to “speak out” and legally test the boundaries of freedom of speech in China. AND, I think by working within these boundaries protesters may be able to gain more sympathy from the Chinese people, after all if regular Chinese can sympathize with a guy who stabs Shanghai police officers (link below), why can’t they sympathize with their fellow countrymen protesting legally within the bounds set by the government?

http://cmp.hku.hk/2008/07/23/1127/

“Those that don’t out of fear will not be influenced by rumours that some foreigners were protesting about their own country during the Olympics”
In my mind, I was thinking that these areas would be more attractive/effective for Chinese dissidents more than foreign protesters. I expect foreign protesters to do things “outside the law”, in order to rouse the attention of the foreign media. These areas are probably more conducive to domestic protesters, who by protesting legally might be able to rouse the sympathy of their fellow countrymen. Basically, I think foreign protests will (unfortunately) be a disaster and have little influence wherever they occur.

July 25, 2008 @ 12:14 am | Comment

I am going to err on the side of optimism and say that this is bigger than most will make it out to be

Your view – I think you’re wrong. ’nuff said.

Basically, I think that this presents a unique opportunity for people to “speak out” and legally test the boundaries of freedom of speech in China

1. How can they do that if the Police veto protests that are targetting China in some way?

2. They wouldn’t be testing the boundaries of freedom of speech in China because this will be a temporary phenomenon.

I was thinking that these areas would be more attractive/effective for Chinese dissidents more than foreign protesters

Chinese dissidents have been increasingly harrassed in the last few months by the Chinese authorities and will probably not be allowed to attend one way or another.

July 25, 2008 @ 4:03 am | Comment

If they had been included in the survey then their voices would be heard.

It is reasonable to assume that the survey sample has resulted in skewed results because the surveyers did not have the ability to poll a statistically random sample.

The point is the pew research group did not have the freedom to conduct an unfettered poll. So as they would admit the results leave out the majority of minority peoples and the rural chinese least affected by the current goodness of economic development.

It is interesting that given that, government corruption and the gap between rich and poor still ranked high. So even those benefiting know there is a problem.

July 25, 2008 @ 4:16 am | Comment

It’s revealing of Tang’s worldview that he finds such exclusions completely permissible.
As for the zones, it is not yet clear but they might be open only to foreigners, according to the chest-thumping “Global Times.” I would expect that it is how it will develop. It’s simply a ploy to make anything outside of those zones automatically “illegal.” It gives a new meaning to “ruling the country by law.”

July 25, 2008 @ 1:48 pm | Comment

“It’s simply a ploy to make anything outside of those zones automatically ‘illegal.’”

Exactly! That’s all it really is about. As for dissidents using those new zones for political protests, the prominent ones are in jail or under house arrest and the others most likely won’t dare.

July 25, 2008 @ 2:42 pm | Comment

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is not the first time China has created such zones, is it? I’ve read several reports mentioning such a zone in Huairou (I think- maybe Changping or another of the outer districts) back during that UN women’s conference a few years ago.

Secondly, I don’t understand the apparent assumption by several commenters that Chinese people are incapable of protesting without rioting. I can understand how somebody whose first-hand experience of China is limited would come to believe such a thing, but reality is quite different. I used to go past the Tongzhou District government building on a semi-regular basis and would often see groups of protestors outside watched over by a small gaggle of cops and security guards, all very quiet and very peaceful- yes, the only unusual thing about these protests was the lack of noise. Also, a few months- no, it must be a year ago now, one of our local markets suddenly sprouted a poster informing us the market would be torn down and a hospital built. The very next day the market wall had acquired numerous posters protesting the plan- posters which generally made very rational arguments based on relevant laws and regulations and appealing to common decency. A few days later all the posters were disappeared and replaced with a banner encouraging people to go about their business harmoniously. The market is still there, there was no violence of any kind, there’s been no mention of a new hospital on the site since. So, terribly sorry, but the idea that these free speech zones will provide any kind of opportunity for Chinese people to learn how to protest in a civilised manner is utterly absurd- they’re already more than capable of it.

“It’s simply a ploy to make anything outside of those zones automatically ‘illegal.’”

Well, there’s nothing new there. Hasn’t that always been the whole point of creating such zones everywhere they’ve been used?

And kevinnolongerinpudong: Did Tang’s comment state that any exclusions were permissible? Or did he point out that the inclusion of Tibetans and Uighurs (in numbers equivalent to their proportion of the overall population, of course) would have made no noticeable difference to the findings of the survey considering how tiny a proportion of the Chinese population they represent?

July 25, 2008 @ 9:44 pm | Comment

Chris,

“I don’t understand the apparent assumption by several commenters that Chinese people are incapable of protesting without rioting.”

I am in complete agreement that this assumption is false, on the other hand it appears to be a working assumption of the CCP: Any form of organized protest is inherently destabilizing and carries with it the high potential to descend into ‘chaos.’

July 26, 2008 @ 5:11 am | Comment

@Jeremiah

Or rather, any organization outside of the control of the CCP is in principle considered a menace and a possible challenge to its grip on power.

July 26, 2008 @ 5:30 am | Comment

Or rather, any organization outside of the control of the CCP is in principle considered a menace and a possible challenge to its grip on power.

Indeed. If the CCP opposed protests because of violence it would legalise formal means of expressing anger/dissatisfaction in addition to the old and now unworkable means of submitting petitions. But it has no interest in doing that because it primarily opposes protests because of the threat to its own supremacy – formal means of taking action, such as through non-partisan courts, would be just as “bad” in its view.

July 26, 2008 @ 5:48 am | Comment

Jeremiah, that seems to be the working assumption of pretty much everybody. My point was simply that every protest I have seen has been quiet, dignified and peaceful, and I know of one instance in which the protestors very quickly got their way. I have yet to personally witness any protest action here which required police showing up in riot gear to bang heads together. In fact, every protest I have seen was attended by a few cops and security guards in ordinary uniforms carrying ordinary equipment monitoring the situation. If things had turned nasty, I’m sure they would’ve called for better armed back-up, but that’s all I’ve seen. I suspect that on an everyday basis if the protestors aren’t threatening peace and stability (or the local boss’ economic or career interests), then the government will work with them.

July 26, 2008 @ 1:36 pm | Comment

@Raj

I agree with you Raj. And that is one of the big impediments for developing healthy social movements in CH.

So self called “communist” parties, when in power, justify their claim to supremacy because they are the “vanguards” of social development and progress. For that reason they try always to coop or when not possible suppress any social movement, just in case the self entitled “vanguard” is… overtaken.

Remember a funny incident here, some years ago there was a big student demostration, several main leader of the Communist party (what is left of it) tried to coop the demonstration by putting themselves at the head of it.
They are the vanguard of progress and social change! Of course they should be at the front (vanguard) of such a significant event!
Besides, it always bring some glamour to be at the front of the young and idealist students ( unless you are in power and they are marching against you…)

The answer to students was very fast. Please! Go to the back of the demonstration!

July 26, 2008 @ 4:25 pm | Comment

Providing protest zone miles away from the main event has been used extensively by GW Bush also. Basically media is coerced into covering the official event rather than the protesters.

July 28, 2008 @ 10:06 am | Comment

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