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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.