Friday, January 30, 2009

Year of the Vox?

The Chinese Communist Party is working hard to avoid the fate of the Soviet Union as it liberalized its economy and society. The Chinese have worked to create a firewall between economic reform and freedom in the political arena. Dissent is not tolerated. Tiananman Square was just the biggest and most violent response to a display of budding freedom inside China.

So far the Chinese ruling elite is holding their own despite unrest in the countryside. But that doesn't mean that yearning for freedom is completely suppressed:

Although their numbers are still small, those signing the document, and the broad spectrum from which they come, have made the human rights manifesto, known as Charter 08, a significant marker in the demands for democracy in China, one of the few sustained campaigns since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Those who sign the charter risk arrest and punishment.

When the document first appeared online in mid-December, its impact was limited. Many of the original signers were lawyers, writers and other intellectuals who had long been known for their pro-democracy stance. The Chinese government moved quickly to censor the charter -- putting those suspected of having written it under surveillance, interrogating those who had signed, and deleting any mention of it from the Internet behind its great firewall.

Then something unusual happened. Ordinary people such as Tang with no history of challenging the government began to circulate the document and declare themselves supporters. The list now includes scholars, journalists, computer technicians, businessmen, teachers and students whose names had not been associated with such movements before, as well as some on the lower rungs of China's social hierarchy -- factory and construction workers and farmers.

"This is the first time that anyone other than the Communist Party has put in written form in a public document a political vision for China," said Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, a human rights activist and director of the China Internet Project, which monitors conversation on China's vast network of electronic bulletin-board systems, blogs and Web sites. "It's dangerous to be associated with dissidents, so in the past, other, ordinary people have not signed such documents. But this time it is different. It has become a citizens' movement."

It is likely that this will amount to nothing and the government will shut down this avenue of protest--with the number of casualties and prison terms the only question. Most protest movements go nowhere and the voices of the protesters remain unheard throughout China.

Until one succeeds, of course, and tens of millions hear the cry for freedom and do something about it.