On the lamppost outside my residential compound in Beijing someone had stuck up a poster. The glue was still wet when I looked at the signatures of workers from half a dozen provinces. They were calling for immediate mass protests. 'Everyone must act together to punish corruption and give back human rights! We plead with the new leadership of China to unsheath the sword of justice and kill all the dirty cadres.' In increasingly violent language, it first expressed support for Zhu Rongji's government but mostly called on people to 'unite together and chop off the heads of the corrupt and brutal cadres'. It is the first such poster I have seen in Beijing since 1989, and is a hint the honeymoon for Mr Zhu may already be over and political unrest around the corner. The city has been buzzing with talk of former Indonesian president Suharto's fall, and around dinner tables people who saw the news unfold on television drew the obvious parallels with Tiananmen: students demanding democracy, attacking corruption, occupying Parliament, troops opening fire and killing student demonstrators, opposition leaders calling for restraint amid fears of a military massacre. In Jakarta, the tanks patrolling the streets were not, in the end, unleashed in support of an unpopular dictatorship. But Beijingers have been asking themselves: would the Chinese military act differently a second time round? The fall of Mr Suharto, the relatively peaceful transition to a new government and the end of Indonesia's economic miracle have given immense encouragement to those seeking political change in China. Not surprisingly, China's leadership has looked on uncomfortably at the precedent set in Jakarta. At the crucial moment when CNN was broadcasting Mr Suharto's resignation speech live, the satellite link was cut and viewers were left looking at fuzzy pictures. The Chinese media have done their best to highlight the looting and ignore the role of the victorious students. Chinese Central Television news portrayed Mr Suharto as a victim of the Asian financial crisis. Yet everyone here seems to have heard stories of the corruption of his clan, and immediately linked the protest movement to the corruption factor. In 1989, protests were spurred by Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost in the old Soviet Union, and Indonesia could play the same role. Chinese newspapers have been quick to condemn the 'turmoil', the code word also used to describe the 1989 protests. China Daily ran an editorial piously opining that 'we have every reason to point out that peace and stability should be the primary concern for Indonesians'. And it argued that 'violence and social disruption' will only exacerbate the problems. Even papers such as the Workers Daily and Guangming Daily have had to briefly mention the students and the corruption factor in their accounts of Suharto's downfall. The Liberation Army Daily also discussed the events, although its editorial preferred to emphasise the dangerous rioting. In the past eight years, Chinese leaders have claimed that Tiananmen brought the social stability that fostered economic growth and prosperity. Now this social pact could easily come apart in China as it has in Indonesia. For the next few years, economic growth is inevitably going to be slow and urban unemployment will grow from around 11 million to more than 25 million. China's GDP growth is now around 7.2 per cent, according to official figures. But most economists, including those at the World Bank, assume that international statistical methods would put the rate several points lower. Economic growth has been falling since 1993 and this trend is unlikely to be reversed. National economic statistics, even if they are accurate, disguise considerable regional variations. Many people, including cadres, teachers, workers and pensioners, are not being paid in northwest and northeast China. Some provinces are even now reporting growth rates of only two or three per cent. In real terms, their economies are contracting. Still, there is a dangerous air of complacency about the threat of a serious crisis in China. International organisations such as the World Bank still act extremely protectively of the Chinese Government. When Yukon Huang, the head of the World Bank's China operations, talked to the press in Beijing last week, he insisted he must not be quoted saying anything that implied criticism or doubts about the future. China is now undertaking reforms, tough and difficult ones, that it has put off for years. The World Bank is encouraging these reforms, the same ones it supported in the East bloc, and so are Western governments. Yet many observers contrast China's situation with that of Japan or South Korea, and misleadingly conclude that China is not vulnerable to the same shocks that brought down the Asian miracle. It is true that China's economy will not suddenly collapse because of pressure from foreign currency markets, but it is under strain for other reasons. It must restructure state enterprises, its pension and health systems, housing and so on in one go. No amount of economic growth will forestall a great deal of pain for many people used to enjoying the best privileges the state could offer. So far, Mr Zhu shows every sign of being determined to plough ahead with the programme he laid out two months ago. He has been holding national conferences, focusing first on grain and more recently on unemployment and social security. Others will follow. So far the details of his measures seem disappointingly thin, but it is still too early to judge whether he might bend and postpone some hard decisions. Yet not everything he is attempting meets with international approval. Uniquely among former communist countries, Mr Zhu is trying to preserve as many state-owned enterprises as possible by merging good and bad ones. This is one reason diplomats from the old Soviet bloc are sceptical about the future. A second factor special to China is that the economy has so far been lifted and sustained by the vast inflow of investments from abroad, and especially from overseas Chinese. Just at the moment China needs this most, the Asian crisis has put a dent in it. This year, foreign investment from Indonesia slumped by 90 per cent and by large percentages from other countries. Life for big overseas Chinese taipans such as Indonesia's Liem Sioe Liong, who poured money into his home province of Fujian, has changed considerably since rioters ransacked his house. Circumstances are more difficult for Thailand's Chearavanont family, whose company Pokhphand had invested heavily in China. As cash-strapped South Koreans and Japanese scale back, Chinese officials now say strong demand from the United States and the recovering economies of Western Europe is sustaining export growth. Thanks to China's adroit diplomacy and the divisions among Western powers, Beijing has restored its ties with Europe and will cement a better relationship with the US when President Bill Clinton visits. Yet these are fair-weather friends. At the first sign of serious domestic unrest in China, Western leaders (and bankers) will be very quick to distance themselves from the Chinese Government. Even Mr Clinton has boldly informed President Jiang Zemin that he was 'on the wrong side of history'. And the real pessimists also worry that this year could see even rougher times for China if Japan's economy collapses or stock markets crash in America. The most worrying factor is that the men who put up the poster in Chang An Avenue under the nose of a traffic policemen come from provinces like Shanxi and Inner Mongolia, which never benefited much from direct overseas investment. In the big towns of such provinces, it was state investment which brought job security. Much now depends on the tolerance of workers for further hardship. Mr Zhu is not promising sufficient amounts of money to protect the incomes of laid-off workers. Only a third of dole payments is to be met by the central government and another third from vaguely defined social sources. And relatively little is being spent on re-training or job centres. Mr Zhu also wants to raise rents to encourage people to buy their own homes. Home ownership is supposed to provide a new motor for economic growth, but in many places, such as the northeast, it cannot work. People without jobs or on low incomes will not be able to buy their apartments or be willing to pay higher rents. In cities like Shenyang, much of the new low-cost and government-built housing stock is standing empty. But the greatest imponderable is China's tolerance for corruption. Often, the poorer a province, the more corrupt the cadres seem. Yet even in Beijing, the former party secretary Chen Xitong could divert millions of dollars out of state coffers. 'How can there even be talk of human rights when our human rights have been completely suppressed by corruption?' the authors of the wall-poster petition demanded. One poster does not make a Tiananmen, but unrest might one day spread to Beijing. There are already regular protests in front of the district party headquarters in the northeast, and some have taken to blocking railway lines.