According to a Chinese joke, there are three parts to any newscast on the official Central China Television station.
The message in the first block of stories on each night's news is: Your leaders worked hard today. This is proven with eye-glazing footage of President Hu Jintao and other top Communist Party officials meeting foreign dignitaries, ordinary Chinese people and each other.
For those still awake when the second block of stories airs, the theme is: The Chinese people are happy. Great things are happening in the People’s Republic.
The third bit is the counterpoint to the second chunk, and the message is equally simple: The rest of the world is in chaos. Europe is falling apart! The Arab world is on fire! Aren’t you glad you live in China?
When the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations began on Sept. 17, it nicely fit into the third block of that news agenda. American capitalism, China’s great rival, was in crisis (although it does put a few million people here to work), and the masses were taking to the streets against it.
Could Occupy Wall Street be America’s Arab Spring? the China Daily asked gleefully before going on to argue the Arab Spring was in fact “objectively non-existent.” (China’s leaders have opposed the uprisings in the Middle East every step of the way, perhaps seeing a little of themselves in Hosni Mubarak, Moammar Gadhafi and Bashar Assad.)
With no apparent sense of irony at all, the state-controlled Chinese press even joined those accusing the mainstream U.S. media counterparts of imposing a blackout on the Occupy Wall Street protests.
But that was back when the “Occupy” protests were safely an ocean and a bit away in New York City. But the movement’s rapid spread across North America and Europe to Asia – Occupy Tokyo, Occupy Seoul and Occupy Taipei protests began on Oct. 15 – has clearly rattled the Communist Party leadership. There’s even a small but ongoing Occupy Hong Kong protest camp in front of the HSBC headquarters in that separate-but-still-part-of-China city’s financial district.
The chuckling from stability-obsessed Beijing has ceased. On Sina Weibo, China’s popular Twitter-like microblogging service (the real Twitter is blocked here), the search terms “Occupy Beijing,” “Occupy Shanghai,” “Occupy Guangzhou,” “Occupy Lhasa” and so on were blocked, right down the line to “Occupy Haikou” and “Occupy Shijiazhuang,” smaller provincial centres where there’s not much of a financial district to camp in anyway.
(We saw this overkill earlier in the year when all mention of the word “jasmine” – yes, the humble flower and tea – was banned online after someone mused about staging a Tunisia-inspired uprising on the streets of Beijing.)
Some Chinese journalists say they’ve been told they can no longer mention the “Occupy” movement in their articles, while foreigners in Shanghai say they’ve been questioned by police about whether they’re here to spread the protests.
It seems China’s leaders came to understand that the real target of the Occupy Wall Street movement wasn’t the Obama administration or even U.S. Congress, but unbridled, exploitative capitalism. The very sort that has made China the country with the second-highest number of billionaires while its per capita income still lags Jamaica and Macedonia.
In an article in the Global Times newspaper, Wang Yizhou, vice-dean of the School of International Studies at Beijing University, recently cast the Occupy Wall Street movement as proof of the superiority of China’s authoritarian system.
“Things would be very different if the protests took place in China. The government here would take powerful measures and the financial giants would dare not to refuse change,” he said.
Another way that things would be different is that the protests would never be allowed to happen in the first place.