Howard W. French: Don’t Dismiss a Jasmine Moment in China

For the Atlantic, Howard French writes that the Jasmine Revolution in China, despite recent media reports to the contrary, has been a great success:

To be clear, the argument here is not that China is flirting with a revolutionary moment. But this does not mean that this is not an unusually important moment, and a deeply revealing one as well.

At the simplest level, it is hard to understand how a call to protest can be declared a failure if it virtually causes a nation’s entire security apparatus to come out in force and to take extraordinary measures of one kind after another, as has happened in China.

Ever the great builder of walls, China responded to last week’s call for protesters to gather at a McDonalds in central Beijing by erecting barriers around the fast food establishment and deploying sanitation workers to hose down the streets to shoo people away. Watching over the scene were large numbers of policemen, both uniformed and plain-clothed, who didn’t hesitate to use muscle to bundle away suspected foreign correspondents, many of whom were then subjected to interrogations on camera.

[…] On reflection, this might be a good time to take the Chinese authorities at face value. By their actions, they have all but declared this Jasmine moment to be of tremendous importance. By the same token, this is a good time to reconsider the hasty verdict of failure that many attached to this phantom movement.

A baseline objective of peaceful protesters everywhere is to call out their oppressors, to cause them to show their true colors, and to induce overreaction. By these standards at very little cost, whoever is behind the calls for Chinese to “stroll” in designated areas in cities around the country every weekend in silent protest has registered a rousing asymmetric success.