Letter from China: China builds a new wall, and democracy hits it – Howard W. French
The other day, an acquaintance pointed out something I’d scarcely noticed on a frequently traveled route through this city: steel benches had been removed from the sidewalk in front of one of central Shanghai’s premier hotels.
It seemed like idle chatter at first. Then came the payoff in the form of a hard-bitten observation by a Chinese person who knew his own society. “The city government must be getting ready for an important meeting across the street. If they are so afraid, they shouldn’t hold their meetings in the heart of the business district.”
For months now, the site in question, on Nanjing Lu, directly across the street from the majestic, Soviet-designed Shanghai Exhibition Center, where the city’s leaders often meet, has been gradually transformed into a sort of Democracy Wall. This is the place where Shanghai residents come these days to air their grievances, usually over property issues, like being railroaded out of the central city as a result of cozy deals between local officials and big developers. And sure enough, a few days after the friend’s comment, a big meeting of city leaders was convened there.