Earlier this month, observers called the violent crackdown on anti-government protesters in Kiev’s Independence Square a “Ukrainian Tiananmen,” a reference to when the Chinese military killed hundreds of demonstrators in Beijing in 1989. Now that activists have successfully ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, some Chinese citizens are asking when their Independence Square moment will come.
The ultimately successful protests in Ukraine have resonated with both activists and regular Chinese citizens. On Feb. 23, protesters held up two banners in a park in Jinan in Shandong province that read: “The Ukrainians are free, how long will we Chinese have to wait?” The photo was censored from Chinese social media, but circulated on Twitter:
A video of a Ukrainian protester describing activists’ aims to be free of a corrupt government has been translated into Chinese and viewed over 120,000 times. And on Sina Weibo, bloggers have been commenting on (registration required) photos of Ukrainian riot police kneeling to apologize to protesters. One blogger wrote in comments that were later wiped from Sina Weibo, “Ukraine isn’t unrest. This is the price of democracy. Democracy doesn’t just fall from the sky.”
The violence between protesters and Ukrainian police has given Chinese state media an occasion to emphasize the dangers of democratic reforms (link in Chinese) undertaken too quickly—an issue that Chinese president Xi Jinping seems personally concerned about. “Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate?” Xi asked officials in December. “An important reason was that their ideals and convictions wavered…In the end, nobody was a real man. Nobody came out to resist.”
So far, most Chinese citizens are far from taking to the streets. Past uprisings around the world like the Arab Spring failed to generate any significant protests in China. Meanwhile, Chinese officials have been cracking down on activists and online discussion, all while launching a propaganda campaign to remind people of the greatness of their country and the primacy of the so-called “Chinese Dream.”
Still, as the protesters in Jinan suggested, large-scale protests in China may just be a matter of time, as more citizens become fed up with government corruption and restrictions on their freedom. As one blogger commented (link in Chinese), “Ukraine had tens of thousands protestors on the street. One day, China will have hundreds of thousands.”