We all know the line abut Tiananmen Square, that we can only thank God the CCP saved China from chaos by cracking down on the protesters by whatever means necessary. This argument was carried to another extreme in the case of Russia, where the rapid switch to democracy plunged the nation into chaos. Every schoolchild in China knows about that. And now Egypt. Seems like whenever a dictatorship is threatened, the CCP feels the need to desperately convince its citizens that change equals chaos.
Egypt may well be facing chaos. Russia indeed went through a long period of chaos. The protests in Tiananmen Square were nothing if not chaotic. But sometimes chaos is part of a phase toward stability. Often the relatively brief period of chaos ultimately leads to something better than the decades of oppression that preceded it. But that’s not how the CCP sees it, and they were lightening-swift in branding the Egyptian protests as an invitation to chaos.
Censoring the Internet is not the only approach. The Chinese government has also tried to get out ahead of the discussion, framing the Egyptian protests in a few editorials and articles in state-controlled news publications as a chaotic affair that embodies the pitfalls of trying to plant democracy in countries that are not quite ready for it — a line China’s leaders have long held.
The English-language edition of Global Times, a populist newspaper, ran an editorial on Sunday about the Tunisian and Egyptian protests with the headline “Color revolutions will not bring about real democracy.” Though Global Times is not the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, the message of the editorial was consistent with official thinking, saying bluntly that whether democracy “is applicable in other countries is in question, as more and more unsuccessful examples arise.”
….Some of the news coverage of Egypt that has appeared in People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s main newspaper, and Xinhua, the official news agency, has focused on attempts by China to evacuate its citizens, simply leaving out the political discontent at the root of the unrest.
Of course, if I didn’t know better, I might think the party was nervous about its own people seeing what’s going on in Egypt as a good thing, and getting their own ideas about how it might be time to try the same approach in China. Now, as I said in my last post, this is a pretty groundless fear. There is no reason to believe the Chinese will take to the streets and risk life and limb to tear down a regime that most of them see as a vast improvement over what they had before, or that they at worst see as a necessary evil. But the CCP always gets the jitters when it sees people anywhere rising up to demand democratic reforms.
The “C word” is a very powerful tool for convincing people to shut their pie holes and get back to work and be happy for what they’ve got. For a society taught at birth to prize harmony over nearly everything else, nothing can be more terrifying than the threat of chaos. So it’s hardly a surprise to see the propgandists spinning their wheels to get the chaos meme out there, while censoring like mad to keep awareness of the Egyptian protests at a minimum. They have to worry that a lot of Chinese people are watching Egypt closely, despite the censorship and propaganda:
….Zhao Jing, a liberal Chinese blogger who goes by the name of Michael Anti, said that “it was amazing netizens on Twitter cared about Egypt so much” that they had begun drawing parallels between China and Egypt. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was being called Mu Xiaoping, a reference to Deng Xiaoping, who quashed the 1989 popular protests in Beijing, while Tahrir Square in Cairo was being compared to Tiananmen Square.
But that interest isn’t translating into rebellion. The government should be a little more secure. They’ve made it nearly impossible for a challenger to arise and take their place, and despite the buzz on China’s social networks, the Chinese are in no mood for another Tiananmen Square. Conditions would have to be a lot worse, with more people convinced they had nothing to lose. Maybe someday not too far off, but not today.
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.