No Arab Spring in China this winter

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 December, 2011, 12:00am


What do Mohamed Bouazizi, Abu-Abdel Monaam Hamedeh, Ali Mehdi Zeu and Xue Jinbo have in common? Better hope Xue has little or nothing in common with the others.

The first three have been hailed as heroes of the Arab Spring, whose suicides sparked rebellions that toppled regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Xue, a representative of villagers in Wukan, Guangdong, died in police custody. The village is now in open revolt and has been placed under siege. Officials say Xue died of a heart attack; his supporters say he was tortured.

The Arab Spring - even though it covers events in multiple countries with vastly different social conditions across the Middle East and Maghreb - has shared a single narrative as a fight for freedom. Based on this simplistic reading, there have been calls for a Chinese Spring. The revolt of Wukan fits this narrative well.

But there is nothing romantic about what is happening in Wukan. It is just about money, as with so many protests across the country. Officials want the villagers' land for development. Most villagers would have been happy to sell, but for the depressed rates they are offered. The villagers would hold banquets to celebrate with local officials if they were to be compensated at market rates. There are tens of thousands of such demonstrations each year, large and small, and they are usually interpreted as signs of political instability in China.

There are as many protests and revolts across India each year too, often deadlier, but few outside commentators bother to make similar claims about the stability of the government in New Delhi because it is supposed to be democratic.

Of course, the Wukan rebellion could still escalate into a full-scale political revolt. After all, Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor, burned himself to death not for freedom, but because he was upset that officials had confiscated his wares.