A Revolution’s Namesake Is Contraband in China

The crackdown on free speech following calls for a “Jasmine Revolution” in China has netted numerous prominent and less well-known artists, activists, lawyers, writers and others. But one other group is also suffering as a result of the government’s blanket ban on all things jasmine: flower sellers. From the New York Times:

Even if Chinese cities have been free from any whiff of revolutionary turmoil, the war on jasmine has not been without casualties, most notably the ever-expanding list of democracy advocates, bloggers and other would-be troublemakers who have been preemptively detained by public security agents, among them the artist provocateur Ai Weiwei, who remains in police custody after being seized at Beijing’s international airport last month.

Less well known are the tribulations endured by the tawny-skinned men and women who grow ornamental jasmine here in Daxing, a district on the rural fringe of the capital. They say prices have collapsed since March, when the police issued an open-ended jasmine ban at a number of retail and wholesale flower markets around Beijing.

Zhen Weizhong, 47, who tends 2,000 jasmine plants on about an acre of rented land here, said the knee-high potted variety were wholesaling about 75 cents, one-third last year’s price. “Even if I could sell them, I would lose money on every plant,” he said, glancing forlornly at a mound of unsold bushes whose blossoms were beginning to fade. Asked whether he knew about the so-called jasmine revolution and whether it had played a role in collapsing demand, Mr. Zhen shrugged. “I don’t know anything about politics,” he said. “I don’t have time to watch television.”

Much like the initial calls on the Internet for protesters to “stroll silently holding a jasmine flower,” the floral ban is shrouded in some mystery. The Beijing Public Security Bureau, reached by phone, declined to answer questions about jasmine. But a number of cut flower and live plant business owners said they had been either visited by the police in early March or given directives indicating that it had become contraband.

May 10, 2011 9:30 AM
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Categories: Economy, Politics, Society