By Zhang Wen, Mao Yushi, Liu Xuewei, and Ceng Biao; translation, compilation and commentary by Jennifer Smith
In spite of the Chinese media¡¯s near blackout of all non-official news related to the democracy protests in Egypt, including the blocking of ¡°Egypt¡± as a search term on Sina microblogs and other online platforms, many netizens have found their way around these measures, finding ways to not only access foreign news related to the uprising, but also post news and analysis of the unfolding situation online. China Elections and Governance (Chinese) has compiled more than 100 news articles and commentaries, from domestic and foreign news sources, scholars, as well as the Chinese blogosphere.
Opinions are varied, with commentators offering many differing views about what the unrest implies for China’s gradualist approach to political reform and for the domestic debate on the existence of “universal values” such as human rights. Below are excerpted translations from some of these articles, providing a small sampling of Chinese public opinion on the unrest, its implications for China¡¯s development and democratization, and on the role of the United States in the developing drama. (Read more CEG English coverage of Chinese reactions to events in Egypt and Tunisia)
Journalist, political commentator and democracy advocate Zhang Wen (ÕÂÎÄ) offers an eloquent and reflective piece on Egypt, the status of democracy in China today, and the choice that he believes China¡¯s rulers will inevitably face.
The biggest fear among those who hold power is losing that power. The fear is the same in modern times and in ancient, and it is the same among both democratic and autocratic regimes. All power wielders will use whatever means at their disposal to squelch opposition and protect themselves. The only difference is that in democratic systems, the ability to seize power depends on elections, whereas in autocracies, it depends on the military and police apparatuses.
I have seen people affirming support for Mubarak¡¯s [call for] ¡°compromise.¡± Naturally, this is the right choice. What politicians need to understand is the appropriate moment for compromise. At this moment, other than ¡°compromise,¡± Mubarak has no other cards to play, because the military upon which his power relies has declared itself neutral and will not fire upon the people.
Mubarak has already stated that he wants to expand democracy [in Egypt] and that he also wants to make sure that this democratic remedy is suitable for the Egyptian digestion and is not too hasty. This type of statement is, of course, ¡°true,¡± [but at the same time] proves extremely confusing, as this is often the type of excuse rulers offer in order to delay a transfer of power. People¡¯s ability to adapt to democracy must be tested through democratic practices, and cannot remain the decision of the any one person¡ªcertainly not that of the ruler.
For example, in China, those peasants who are ¡°low-quality¡± and ¡°most unsuited to carrying out democratic procedures¡± were the first to experiment with democratic elections through direct elections of village heads. After 20 years of these direct elections, the cool breeze of democracy still blows only in China¡¯s rural areas, not in the urban areas most suited for democracy. Even now, there are still people who will claim that the low quality of Chinese people is not suited for democracy, echoing faint words that a Chinese democracy would bring about chaos.
Democracy is a good thing¡ªthis isn¡¯t even any longer a matter of debate, as the majority of Chinese people have already reached a consensus. But how to implement this good thing in China, and to what extent to implement it remain questions that still need to be resolved. Judging from the statements of the ruling authorities, one could conclude that China is not fully ideologically prepared for democracy. This can be seen from the organized public criticism of the concept of ¡°universal values.¡±
The only reason for this unpreparedness is that the pressure is not yet great enough to force authorities to compromise. Some people have brought up that popular movement from 20 years ago, saying that the people’s refusal to compromise eventually led to bloodshed. But in actuality, on the subject of political reform, it must be the government that complies with the will of the people; the government must be more willing to enter into compromise.
In my opinion, through the influence of the past 30 years of reform and opening, especially the Internet enlightenment of the last 10 years, conditions in China have sufficiently matured enough to implement reforms. The time for direct elections of county heads, mayors, and provincial governors has arrived. Now we can say that ¡°all is ready, all that lacks is a strong wind.¡± This strong wind is nothing other than the wisdom and responsibility of the ruling party. The choice is completely in the hands of China¡¯s ruling party: will China see the rise of another political party like the Kuomintang to challenge CCP authority, or will we end up in a situation similar to Tunisia¡¯s, with a president forced to step down from power?
Mao Yushi (Ã©ÓÚéø), economist at the Tianze Economic Research Institute and outspoken blogger, uses the nature of the democracy movement in Egypt to argue that human rights are universal and broadly applicable, and not, as many Chinese argue, a product of Western history and culture.
In recent years, everyone is talking about universal values. But some people don¡¯t argue that there is any such thing as universal values. They reason that differences in each country¡¯s history, culture, and traditions show that universal values don¡¯t exist. But I believe that human rights can achieve recognition as a universal value. Can we say that people don¡¯t need the right to subsistence, that they don¡¯t need property protection rights, that they don¡¯t need the right to express themselves freely? China¡¯s constitution did not mention universal values, but it did include human rights. All countries, whether they are serious about human rights or not, will all include talk of rights¡ªsurvival rights, free speech rights, etc.¡ªinto their constitutions. Human rights have obviously already entered deeply into people¡¯s hearts. It is particularly obvious in the events unfolding in Egypt, which seem to show that people of the Muslim faith are on the same quest for human rights.
The Arab people form an extremely large worldwide ethnic group, speaking the same language, believing the same faith, and possessing the same eating habits. Everyone doubts the Arab world believes in universal values of equality and freedom, because Arab women do not enjoy equal rights with men. At the least, equality is not a value that is not feasible throughout the Arab world. But in Egypt¡¯s anti-government protests, the Muslim Brotherhood is allied with groups calling for human rights. Among the protesters are both Muslim men sporting turbans and modern girls in high heels. This phenomenon should be able to speak to the universality of human rights.
Over the course of 30 years of reform, China has already established its worldwide economic status. But in terms of human rights, the Chinese government lags behind, not only failing to win respect from international society, but also remaining passive on the subject in every respect. Human rights does not receive sufficient attention within China, placing officials and the public in opposition to one another and leading the government to do a poor job of maintaining stability. The situation is unsustainable. The events in Egypt have been enough to attract our attention. The government that disdains human rights cannot survive in the end.
France-based scholar of Chinese politics Liu Xuewei (ÁõÑ§Î°) expresses more reserve and unnerve when faced with the rapid developments in the Arab world, preferring what he views as China¡¯s more gradualist approach to reform.
Returning to the subject of China, I rejoice in the fact that my country¡¯s social advances (urbanization, industrialization, the growth of the service industry, and the growth of the middle class) have been deeper and more rapid than those in Egypt. If today we don¡¯t yet have the opportunity [for deeper reform], if today our history and social conditions are not yet mature enough, then we can be sure that these conditions are in the process of rapid development. Perhaps we can discover our own unique path toward political modernization. If we really are incapable of following the same path toward democratization that was taken by western peoples, I still expect that our transition will take place when social conditions are ready for it to do so. I really don¡¯t like revolution. In my study of history, as soon as I see the chaos in the streets, it immediately brings back too many unbearable memories. I [instead] sing the praises of compromise and of reform. I hope the Egyptian people and government succeed in reaching compromise that can be put forth as a model for the world, including for China.
Finally, Ceng Biao (Ôøì®) ponders the American role in the current crisis and articulates the choice the United States will have to make in the coming days.
Is democracy a goal of Arab modernization, or a means to an end for American security interests?
In coming months, legal scholar [and emerging key Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed] ElBaradei needs to display himself as a political leader. What he most needs now is to effectively break Mubarak¡¯s three lines of defense. He must use speed to fight slowness, force out Mubarak as quickly as possible, force [recently appointed Vice President Omar] Suleiman to face possible war, and take advantage of the fact that people¡¯s anger is not dissipating to eat away at Suleiman¡¯s political authority.
Relations between ElBaradei and the United States have not been pleasant in the past. However, if stability in the Middle East is a top interest, the United States can use [past experience with] Hamid Karzai as a lesson in enabling Suleiman in order to maintain Egyptian stability. But in doing so the United States, always happy to export democracy, must be clear that its action is in direct conflict with its values.
Until now, the United States has played too often the role of referee. Obama and Clinton have frequently implied that peace in the Middle East holds particular significance for [Nobel Peace prize winner] President Obama. Thus, the future choices on Egypt will provide America with a test of its conscience: it can either apply its own democratic principles to help Egypt¡¯s transition and help ElBaradei, or it will help sustain the Egyptian dictatorship in order to protect its own national security interests, protecting Suleiman.