A Coup in China? A Jasmine Spring?

March 26, 2012

Do a Google search on “News of a coup in China” and you may end up with as many hits as I had, which was more than 110,000,000 when I was researching the topic of this post.  Amazing!

I suspect this viral Internet topic has to do with dreams of democracy sweeping the world leading to global peace and prosperity for eternity, but that ain’t going to happen anytime soon.

The last time there was this much Internet excitement over revolutions was in December 2010 when the Arab Spring swept across the Middle East and North Africa toppling governments, but at what price.

In November 2011, US News and World Report said that 3,500 had died in Syria (and the fighting isn’t over yet), 250 in Yemen, a 100 in Bahrain, 30,000 in Libya, 900 in Egypt, and 300 in Tunisia.  In addition many more were injured/wounded.

Al Jazeera reported almost 11 months after the Arab uprising that “freedom is not free, and there are now some clear financial costs emerging,” and the cost has reached a grand total of $55.84 billion. (Source: International Monetary Fund)

However, as the Arab Spring blossomed and spread, in America and the West there was a sense of euphoria that democracy was sweeping the globe and would arrive in China, which did not materialize as life went on as usual in the Middle Kingdom.

Then, as if prayers had been answered, on March 19, 2012, there were rumors of a coup in China and the Blogosphere and the media exploded with speculation.

If anything happened in China on March 19, it was probably a political protest by supporters of Bo Xilai, who was yanked from his position of power that week, and Bo Xilai is and was not a democracy advocate.

In fact, what he advocated was closer to a return to the era of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Bo Xilai was also a populist figure and the last time China had a populist figure that was equal parts showman and strongman, his name was Mao Zedong, and he ruled China for twenty-six years and is infamously known in the West for his political purges, the failure of The Great Leap Forward and his closing act, The Cultural Revolution.

Hannah Beech of Global Spin, a blog about the world, its people and its politics, says, “Last May, I said on my blog that Bo Xilai wanted to become Mao Zedong,” Yang told me after Bo’s dismissal. “But he failed because in today’s China there is no need for a Mao.”

In the video, China analyst Jennifer Richmond dispels rumors of a recent coup attempt in Beijing and explores the intensifying political and economic reform debate happening in China ahead of its 2012 leadership transition.

Then the BBC reported, “Damaging coup rumours ricochet across China. Have you heard? There’s been a coup in China! Tanks have been spotted on the streets of Beijing and other cities! Shots were fired near the Communist Party’s leadership compound!

“OK,” the BBC says, “before you get too agitated, there is no coup. To be more exact, as far as we know there has been no attempted coup.

“To be completely correct we should say we do not know what’s going on. The fact is there is no evidence of a coup. But it is a subject that has obsessed many in China (and outside of China) this week.

“Photographs of tanks and armoured cars on city streets were flying around Twitter and elsewhere,” the BBC report continued. “On closer inspection though, some of the pictures seemed to be old ones from rehearsals for military parades, others did not even seem to be of Beijing, as they claimed, but different Chinese cities.”

Then in another report covering this rumor, Shanghaiist.com said, “In other countries, you might see reporters offhandedly refer to their unnamed contacts inside the Prime Minister’s Office, or the White House, or whatever institution they’re covering. Even when I worked in famously enigmatic Russia, I had a few ‘Kremlin sources’ I could occasionally turn to.”

“Not in China,” Shanghaiist continued. “I know many of the foreign journalists based here, and more than a few of the Chinese ones. None have ever claimed to me, or their readers, that they have a contact inside, or even close to, the decision-making Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China.”

Meanwhile, what about an update on the Arab Spring, the so-called democracy movement in North Africa and the Middle East that this post started with?

According to the “2012 Index of Economic Freedom”, Heritage.org said, “Corruption and Terrorism: Will They Undermine the Arab Spring?

Heritage.org says, “Any kind of political instability has important policy implications for development in general, and for sustainable economic growth in particular. The recent turmoil in the Middle East is no exception…”

The Heritage.org study by Nahid Kalbasi Anaraki, Ph.D. asked three questions:

  • Is terrorism more likely to appear under more corrupt regimes?
  • Is there a long-run relationship between a country’s level of economic freedom and terrorism?
  • What is the impact of terrorism on foreign direct investment (FDI) and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita?

Anaraki says, “The results point to a high risk that the hopes of the revolutionary movements will founder on the rocks of terrorism and corruption.”

For more on this, Professor Timur Kuran of the Cline Center for Democracy said, “A striking feature of these uprisings is the lack of an existing opposition or charismatic revolutionary leaders. These have been truly popular revolutions. While the popular character adds legitimacy to the ideals and aspirations of these uprisings, it may also prove a weakness on the path to actual democracy. Due to decades of severe oppression, the opposition forces in almost every transforming country in the region lack recognized leadership, partisan organization, and coherent political ideology. In fact, the only organized political force in this region comes from conservative Islamist groups. Meanwhile, the emergent transitional governments are being formed under the tutelage of defecting, formerly authoritarian elites and their militaries.”

In conclusion, an Arab Spring leading to democracy, a Jasmine Revolution in China, or any revolution by any other name does not guarantee an American and/or Western style democracy will emerge in time.  The only guarantee is that people in Western democracies will get excited and then soon forget they were excited as the next sensation appears, since attention spans and memories in the West are often short and opinionated.

In fact, to many in the West, the Arab Spring and rumors of a coup in China were entertainment, and the same people will soon switch to American Idol or another show such as America’s Next Top Model or maybe Survivor.

Note: Other posts and comments that focus on the 2012 transition of political power in China may be found at Breaking News – a Warning for the CCP from Premier Wen Jaibao and China’s Translation Sensation.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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