Why the Chinese are not inspired by Egypt

Copyright The Financial Times
Published: February 16 2011
“Today we are all Egyptians,” Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist, tweeted as, half a world away, Hosni Mubarak’s power structure crumbled to dust. “It took only 18 days for the collapse of a military regime which was in power for 30 years,” he wrote. China’s Communist party, he joked, had been in power for twice as long and might take that little bit longer to topple.

The sight of hundreds of thousands of people pouring into Cairo’s Tahrir Square has rekindled memories of an ill-fated, student-led occupation of another city square: Tiananmen in 1989. Lurking beneath that comparison has been an implied thought. If only Chinese people were fully aware of what their Egyptian brethren had achieved, they might be tempted to have another go.

“Some western analysts have naively bought into the notion that if you just take care of growth, people will be willing to suspend all manner of other demands,” writes Howard French, a journalist with long China experience, in The Atlantic, a US magazine. Egypt, he says, gives the lie to this presumption. “A society in its entirety, from the lowliest workers to the privileged professional class, wants a cluster of goods: economic growth, transparency, accountability, and a say in who governs it.”

That Egypt raises some awkward questions for Beijing is undeniable. That is why, particularly in the early stages of the uprising, its censors worked overtime to put a gloss on events. Official dispatches focused on the evacuation of Chinese citizens from a chaotic and dangerous Cairo, without bothering to analyse overly what had provoked such a mass disturbance.

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