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[liberationtech] Fwd: my article on Huff Post: Tiananmen 2.0

Nathan Freitas nathan at
Thu Feb 24 11:23:19 PST 2011

>From my colleague Tenzin Dorjee, Executive Director of Students for a
Free Tibet

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: 	[waterhorse] my article on Huff Post: Tiananmen 2.0
Date: 	Thu, 24 Feb 2011 12:45:34 -0500
From: 	Tendor Dorjee <tendor at>



Here is an article I wrote arguing why China is susceptible to the
Tunisia effect:


*TIANANMEN 2.0: /Why China is not immune to the Tunisia effect/*

Last spring, I was waiting for a bus in Cairo. Dawn was just breaking,
and Tahrir Square, where the bus station was located, was empty except
for the omnipresent face of Hosni Mubarak, on posters that covered giant
billboards and buildings all over the city. In the cafes where men
sipped tea and smoked hookahs, there was no smell of a revolution
brewing. Instead, there was a lingering sense of resignation that the
country might be condemned to live under Mubarak forever.

Less than a year later in January, images of the Egyptian revolution
flashed across TV screens worldwide, and Tahrir Square had become
unrecognizable! As people power explodes across the Arab world ­-- first
in Tunisia, then in Egypt, now in Bahrain, Libya and elsewhere -- one
can't help but wonder if we may be witnessing the fourth wave of
democratization. If so, can 1.5 billion people living under the Chinese
Communist Party ride this wave to democracy and freedom?

Before the dust has settled on the Arab spring, analysts are citing
poverty, unemployment and corruption as the three main causes of the
uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Arguing that these socioeconomic
conditions and statistics are missing in today's China, some are quick
to dismiss any possibility of Beijing's rule being shaken by the Tunisia
effect. But let us remember an enduring lesson from history. Statistics
don't make revolutions; people do.

A few years ago, I traveled to Palestine to attend a conference on
nonviolence with a friend of mine. One evening, after the panels and
workshops were over, we found ourselves sitting with the pioneering
theorist of nonviolent conflict, Dr. Gene Sharp. Discussing the
likelihood of mass protests in Tibet and China, we asked him what he
thought was the single most important ingredient to make a revolution.

"Hope," he answered, without a moment's hesitation, in a tone that
indicated mild surprise at how we could not know such a basic fact of life.

People rise up not just because they are poor or unemployed; people rise
up when they believe change is possible. After the success of the
Tunisian revolution, millions of Egyptians suddenly found new hope and
poured into the streets to demand change. In fact, in both Tunisia and
Egypt, the revolution was not led by the poor and unemployed; it was
organized and largely executed by the educated, online, middle class
youth who wanted a say in the way their country was run. If revolutions
are created by poverty and unemployment, why are we seeing an uprising
in Bahrain, an international banking center with an educated, middle
class majority? If Chinese youth are financially better off today than a
decade ago, it makes them more -- not less -- likely to demand freedom
and democracy.

However, while hope can mobilize people, it cannot guarantee success,
which depends on strategy and tools. The mass convergences in Tunis and
Cairo that filled our TV screens for weeks were preceded by months and
years of behind-the-scenes strategic planning, training and organizing
by groups of activists and youth leaders, who wielded the power of the
internet in their nonviolent struggle.

The internet has decentralized power and exponentially strengthened the
grassroots. Wael Ghonim, one of the heroes of the Egyptian uprising,
said it best, "If you want to liberate a society, just give them the
internet." According to Mr. Ghonim, who aptly called their uprising
"Revolution 2.0," the Egyptian revolution began online.

Is China ready for a revolution 2.0? There are nearly half a billion
internet users in China today. China's social media networks are
expanding rapidly -- Chinese Facebook look-alike Renren has 170 million
users and microblogging site Sina has 75 million users. In spite of
China's great firewall, Chinese netizens have learned to circumvent the
censors and read between the lines. When "Egypt" disappears from the
internet, they can surmise that Cairo is in tumult. In the age of the
internet, any battle against information is futile.

Nevertheless, the ultimate success of a revolution in China will depend
on the effective use of strategy. In Egypt and Tunisia, activists and
organizers connected with other pro-democracy forces including the
Serbian youth movement that helped topple Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.
They gathered in living rooms and watched films such as "Bringing Down a
Dictator" about the Serbian uprising, and read books like From
Dictatorship to Democracy by Gene Sharp, internalizing the lesson that
nonviolent movements are more powerful when they are planned
strategically than when they happen spontaneously. If Chinese activists
can analyze the strategic decisions within the 1989 Tienanmen movement
and draw lessons from its failure, they will have a much higher chance
of succeeding the next time.

Some believe the Chinese state is too ruthless to allow a nonviolent
revolution, arguing that protesters will be arrested long before they
reach a critical mass. But mass protest, although the most visible, is
hardly the most effective form of nonviolent resistance. In places where
the crackdown on street protests is swift and brutal, noncooperation and
civil disobedience tactics are often more advisable. These tactics of
denying obedience to the rulers, while reducing the risk of arrest and
increasing the sustainability of the movement, have crippled ruthless

Largely unknown to the world, Tibetans today are engaging in a growing
noncooperation movement. Since a 2008 uprising erupted across Tibet,
China's militarization of the Tibetan plateau has snuffed out all signs
of dissent in the streets. But the revolution did not disappear; it
simply moved indoors. Tibetans are now making a conscious effort to
speak only in Tibetan, to eat only in Tibetan restaurants, or to buy
only from Tibetan shops. Tibetans are channeling their spirit of
resistance into social, cultural and economic activities that are
self-constructive (promoting Tibetan language and culture) and
non-cooperative (refusing to support Chinese institutions and
businesses). The fact that Tibetans are able to wage a quiet,
slow-building nonviolent movement in the most repressive political
climate shows that there is a way to mobilize people power against the
Chinese regime.

In spite of China's image as a high-functioning economy, many of the
social causes of mass discontent that exploded in the Arab world --
endemic corruption, income inequality, labor unrest, inflation,
pollution -- continue to plague the nation. Since 2008, China has
witnessed the Tibetan uprising, the Uyghur uprising in East Turkestan,
and 90,000 mass incidents of public unrest each year. The Chinese
government spends almost as much money on maintaining internal security
as on its national defense. This underlines the overwhelming danger the
regime faces from within its own empire.

2011 marks exactly a century since a previous generation of Chinese
overthrew the Manchu dynasty and established a republic that lasted till
1949. This week, as organizers of a "Jasmine Revolution" issued calls
for protest rallies every Sunday in thirteen cities in China, I started
to feel that the stars are aligned against dictatorships everywhere. If
the Chinese people seize this opportunity by combining nonviolent tools
with strategic planning, they stand to liberate a quarter of the world's
population. It is about time.

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