Chinese activists called for their own “jasmine revolution” on Twitter and other online sites which triggered an immediate reaction from the state. China’s government rounded up lawyers, activists and dissidents, increased online censorship and deployed massive numbers of police to crush any and all demonstrations according to Time Magazine.
In Beijing, the protest was supposed to happen in Wangfujing, a short distance from Tiananmen Square, but there was little signs of unrest as police detained at least three people, including one man who placed a jasmine flower near a McDonald’s restaurant.
Even before the call for demonstrations emerged on Saturday, authorities had heightened the pressure on China’s community of political activists. Human-rights activists estimate that by Sunday evening about 80 people had been either forced to travel from their homes, put under house arrest or placed under similar restrictions.
Internet access restrictions were intensified, including blockage of the term “jasmine” from searches on a popular Twitter-like microblogging site.
Organized protests that directly challenge the authority of China’s ruling Communist Party typically face a swift and stern response.
“This shows just how nervous and how insecure the Chinese government is,” says Wang Songlian, Hong Kong–based research coordinator for Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an advocacy group. “It is aware of how many forms of grievances are in society that are simmering despite the prosperity on the surface.” A protest slogan that circulated online began with the lines, “We want food, we want work, we want housing.”
Although the government faces pressures from unemployment and inflation, especially escalating food and housing costs – its continual economic growth has proven a powerful mendicant for the type of widespread grievances that gripped the country during the Tiananmen protests in 1989.
While Sunday’s protests were a failure, they may have a lasting significance according to Nicholas Bequelin from Human Rights Watch, who says despite the detentions and Internet restrictions, dissidents were still able to spread an online call for coordinated protests.
“Information is growing faster than censorship,” he says. “I don’t believe that the Internet itself will bring democracy to China, but it changes people’s attitudes and the association between themselves and the rest of the world. It’s an important shift in people’s minds.”