While uprisings in the Middle East were an immediate trigger, roots of the current crackdown in China can also be seen further back, in the unrest in Tibet in 2008 and Xinjiang in 2009. At the Financial Times, Jamil Anderlini and Kathrin Hille trace the changing political climate and growth of China’s domestic security apparatus over this period.
With her jam jar full of tea, a little stool and a bright red armband, re tired 50-something Wang Ying appears an unlikely foot soldier for the sprawling Chinese police state.
As a member of her neighbourhood committee in a suburb of the north-eastern city of Harbin, Ms Wang has been increasingly busy since the government revived the Mao-era practice of organising residents to spy on one another.
“Our committee was kind of dormant until 2008. But now it is more like it should be – we do our duty and watch out for elements that could be harmful to stability,” says Ms Wang, who is paid Rmb200 ($31) to sit at the corner of her alley with two other retired women for six hours a day.
“Right now, China religiously follows the principle that stability beats all,” says Professor Hu Xingdou of the Beijing Institute of Technology. However, he continues: “There is too much emphasis on maintaining short-term stability and not much in terms of systemic reforms that would help maintain long-term peace and stability in China.”
A deep fear of the luan, or “chaos”, that reigned during the cultural revolution of 1966-76 is a powerful force shaping policy today. Most of those at the upper reaches of China’s leadership were senior officials at the time of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, and believe wavering by the party leaders of the time allowed the protests to get out of hand, eventually forcing the government to send in the tanks.