Pro Uighur chants and flags have become commonplace in Hong Kong’s marches, with erstwhile fears of many of controlled territories of China, now coming out in open in form of speeches forecasting that the Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown in Xinjiang, could one day be replicated in Hong Kong and elsewhere.
Many of those attending, were waving the flag of East Turkestan, the term many Uighur separatists use for Xinjiang, which has a white crescent moon on a blue background. People also carried flags for Tibet, another occupied and exploited region of China, and the self-ruled island of Taiwan that China claims as its own.
Han Dominion: less cultural, more democratic
What began as a targeted protest against a controversial extradition bill in June, has transformed into a battle for the future of Hong Kong. Protesters are not just fighting their local government. They’re challenging one of the most powerful countries on earth: China.
The two ethnic groups that remain fundamentally different from the Han Chinese, in terms of history, culture, language, religion and physical appearance, are the Uighurs and Tibetans. In these two groups, the Han Chinese come face to face with a difference. The dominant Han attitudes of assimilation, migration seen in light of state-sponsored identity and cultural suppression, have only served to stoke up further resentment. Notwithstanding the fact that both regions have enjoyed faster economic growth over the last decade than China as a whole, the experience of discrimination and sense of loss resulting from growing Han dominion (who now account for more than half the population of Xinjiang) have clearly engendered a profound feeling of bitterness and alienation.
For the Chinese government to shift its policy towards one based on genuine respect for the culture and rights of the Uighurs, and indeed Tibetans, would mark a profound break with Han attitudes not just over recent decades but over centuries. And the fact that there are fewer than 10 million Uighurs and considerably fewer Tibetans, out of a population in excess of 1.3 billion, means that howsoever deep the resentment and howsoever dreadful the clashes, this is a problem that the Han can continue to ignore.
Similar is the issue of territory affiliates like Hong Kong and Macau, where ethnic Han Chinese who has lived as a free citizen under the democratic domain, doesn’t want to be part of the regressive and coercive regime of Communist China.
Chinese Modus Operandi to Preserve Communism
Macau is the only part of China where gambling in casinos is legal. In one generation the city has become the world’s largest gambling center, with the casino industry bringing an abundance of well-paid jobs. GDP per person in 2018 was 854,619 Patacas ($93,187), among the highest in the world and 68% higher than in Hong Kong. Wages are supplemented by the government, which gives each resident 9,000 patacas every year. Chinese officials regard Macau as a political model for what Hong Kong should be: compliant with the Communist Party’s wishes and unequivocally patriotic. Devotion is drilled into people by the media and in schools. A security law, known as Article 23, wielded in the name of punishing treason and secessionism, keeps citizens wary. In Hong Kong, opposition to “patriotic” education and to similar Article 23 forced the local government to shelve both, as of now.
It has been almost 25 years since the Tiananmen Massacre. China and the world have changed enormously since then. Over the past 25 years, one of the biggest transformations in Chinese society has been the dramatic growth of the Internet. The rise of online platforms has given Chinese netizens, an unprecedented capacity for self-publishing and communication within a heavily censored environment. The instantaneous, interactive, and relatively low-risk nature of blogging has empowered netizens to voice political opinions, form social connections, and coordinate online (and sometimes offline) collective action. The Chinese Government needs the Internet as vital to economic and technological development, but they are fearful that free speech, combined with the free flow of information, could destroy both their illegitimate political legitimacy and control over society, on majoritarian Han too.
Since the beginning of the Internet entered China, the government has also been expending significant resources to maintain control over both Internet content and public access to that content. These efforts have escalated since President Xi Jinping took office in the fall of 2012, and since he established the Central Internet Security and Informatization Leading Group in 2014, and gathered unprecedented momentum in both suppressions as well as misinformation since his self proclaimed President for Life playout.
What has since ensued is a regime of fear. The authorities have arrested Pro-democracy voices, prominent Internet commentators and publicly humiliated them through forced confessions on national television. Targets have included the American citizen Charles Xue, who was detained in Beijing under the charge of “prostitution,” and Chinese journalist Gao Yu, who was charged with “leaking state secrets.” The Chinese authorities hope to create a chilling effect, forcing netizens to self-censor.
The Fight Back
Despite the authoritie’s fear-inducing tactics, resentment of censorship continues to grow among netizens and the general public. Following the Chinese social media, it has become clear that more and more netizens are less intimidated by repressive measures, since some time. The official media and the government are losing their credibility and legitimacy in this process. Conclusions can be drawn from the growing number and frequency of deleted Weibo posts on forbidden topics, and from the rapidly growing number of Chinese Internet users using circumvention tools to access blocked websites outside the Great Firewall, including China Digital Times.
There has been much of this “leaderless” collective action in Chinese society lately. But there is also another online phenomenon: public figures as icons of democracy and freedom, emerging from the dynamic interplay of censorship and resistance. One of China’s most prominent free speech and human rights lawyers is now in police custody. Like, Pu Zhiqiang and 14 other activists, scholars, and writers gathered for a seminar about the Tiananmen Massacre. Pu and at least four others have been accused of “creating a disturbance,” a crime under Chinese law.
Uighur, Tibetan and Non-Mainland Chinese territories like Macau and Hong Kong are now in the roast. They stand to have a threshold effect on the Mainland Han democratic movement to get a move on.
Thus, social unrest in China has continued to persist but no national protest movement has yet emerged. In many respects, this has confounded the initial expectations in the wake of the Tiananmen incident and democratic wave, while China’s unreformed single-party political system is disastrous to meet the democratic aspirations of a dynamic and rapidly changing society.
What has been anticipated, once large scale nationalist protests emerge, China’s leadership may take more aggressive actions than it would under normal conditions, has come true. Hong Kong protests have emerged, may not act as a catalyst as of now, for a nationwide phenomenon, but is a precursor to long term quest for democratic aspirations of Chinese people.
All of this is the backdrop of Hong Kong protests, which is now aiming to stick together with Tibetan repression, Uighur’s genocide of culture and Macau’s shady setup. They also shall let arise the pro-democratic leanings of mainland China, once again after the Great Post Tiananmen Freeze.
Probably, the time for a Democratic China has now taken Seed.
25 Dec 19/Wednesday Written by Azeema