Trying to Stir Up a Popular Protest in China, From a Bedroom in Manhattan

In the midst of revolutions spreading across the Middle East, many observers wondered if the same could happen in China. Earlier this year, Chinese internet activists called for a “Jasmine Revolution” but it was harshly put down by the Chinese government. The is still somewhat of a mystery and the Revolution seems increasingly impotent. Who are these activists? Can they really succeed? A profile from the New York Times:

From a pair of computer screens in a lime green bedroom in Upper Manhattan, a 27-year-old man from Wuhan, China, is working to bring about a popular uprising.

“Our group is expanding,” said the uptown blogger, who studied the classics and graduated from Columbia University. He asked to be called Gaius Gracchus, in honor of the ancient Roman reformer, but also uses the pseudonym Hua Ge, or “Flower Brother,” online.

Some activists question the value of such efforts, saying that the calls for widespread protests have accomplished little except to provoke the government into arresting dozens of activists since February.

“It’s an admirable attempt at free expression, but we have not seen any sudden change come of it,” said Pu Zhiqiang, a leading human rights lawyer and advocate of democratic reform in China. “Instead, we’ve mainly seen the Chinese Communist Party frighten itself over it. So it’s hard to see the significance of it in the short term.”

Despite his work, the revolution remains notional. No protesters have gathered in Chinese streets under the banner of the Jasmine movement since late February. Only the police heed the calls for protest each Sunday, blanketing areas in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities in an attempt to snuff out coordinated gatherings.

Mr. Wang, sitting under a photograph of Tiananmen Square in the party’s modest New York headquarters in Flushing, Queens, said there was a debate among dissidents about whether China was ready for an Internet-driven revolution coordinated by a new generation. “We are excited with the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ because we see that the young Chinese, they want to return to the streets,” he said.

While there is no clear evidence that such broad sentiment exists, Chinese authorities are clearly readying for the possibility.

Interest about the people behind the Jasmine Revolution reignited after the Associated Press tracked down the activists earlier this month and talked to them about their aims. From the AP:

The group is a network of 20 mostly highly educated, young Chinese with eight members inside China and 12 in more than half a dozen other countries.

Interviews with four members of the Initiators show similar evolutions: All are young people who grew to resent the government’s autocratic rule and China’s widespread inequality and injustice. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt made change look possible.

“People born in the late ’80s and the ’90s have basically decided that in their generation one-party rule cannot possibly outlive them, cannot possibly even continue in their lifetimes. This is for certain,” the lean, soft-spoken 22-year-old who goes by the Internet alias “Forest Intelligence” said in an interview at a cafe in Seoul’s trendy Samcheong-dong district.

The group has no illusions that change, if it does come, will happen soon, but is willing to wait years to gather momentum.

“Some people say this movement is going to die and this movement is not going to be successful like that in Tunisia or Egypt. But in those countries, it took three or four years for the people to make preparations and finally, there was a peaceful transition,” Hua Ge said.

“It may take a period of time for the people to wake up, so the longer we continue our efforts the more people will know about the situation and join us.”

For more information, the “China Jasmine Revolution” blog can be found at

April 28, 2011, 9:03 PM
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