Guest Post: Why Wasn’t There A Chinese Spring?

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Steve Hass of

Why Wasn’t There A Chinese Spring?

It has now been two years since the self-immolation of the Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, provided the spark that set the Arab world aflame. A wave of protests spread throughout the region in quick succession and led to the overthrow of long ruling autocrats in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, and possibly Syria.

The collapse of regimes like Hosni Mubarak’s in Egypt, which many considered “an exemplar of…durable authoritarianism” was a salient reminder to many that such revolutions are “inherently unpredictable.” Before long some began to speculate that the protest movements might spread to authoritarian states outside the Arab world, including China. Indeed, the Chinese government was among those that feared the unrest would spread to China because, as one observer noted, China faced the same kind of “social and political tensions caused by rising inequality, injustice, and corruption” that plagued much of the Arab world on the eve of the uprisings.

Alas it was not to be as the Chinese government has proven far more durable than many of its counterparts in the Arab world. This inevitably raises the question of what factors differentiated the Chinese government from its Arab counterparts in places like Egypt?

Fortunately,in the more than two years since Mubarak fell, a number of theories have been advanced to explain the Arab Spring.

One set of explanations has centered on social and economic drivers. According to this reasoning, unrest in the region was driven by a highly discontented and mobilized society. Youth unemployment and official corruption enraged citizens throughout much of the Arab world and the diffusion of new communications technologies, particularly social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, enabled these individuals to channel these grievances into effective anti-regime collective action.

One shortcoming of this explanation is that the same sources of discontent and social media websites are available throughout the developing world, but successful revolutions are rare. In China, for example, official statistics suggest youth unemployment is low, but independent research has found that the problem may be large and growing, particularly among the type of young, urban and highly educated groups who have spearheaded many revolutions historically. Meanwhile, cross-national measures of corruption place China squarely between Tunisia and Egypt. Finally, Internet penetration rates also place China shoulder-to-shoulder with Tunisia and Egypt, and social media has increasingly appeared as a critical tool for mobilizing Chinese protestors in frequent “mass incidents,” and spreading news of sensitive topics, such as official corruption and public health threats posed by environmental pollution.

Many academics have made the case that the quality of authoritarian rule in Egypt, Tunisia and other toppled dictatorships has lagged behind that in China, causing a breakdown in the former but not the latter. Beijing has developed crack internal security forces for dispersing crowds and constructed its regime around a hegemonic, well-established political party. While these explanations have merit, researchers had identified similar authoritarian support in the Arab world immediately before the turbulent year of 2011. One key to the resilience of regimes in Tunisia and Egypt were their “robust” security forces, which were well-trained and armed – thanks in part to generous American support – and supposedly fiercely loyal to the regime.

Meanwhile, Mubarak and Ben Ali were carefully institutionalizing their regimes by constructing hegemonic political parties and skillfully using nominally democratic elections and legislatures to maintain regime cohesion and co-opt potential challengers. Meanwhile, in China, presumed to be bolstered by more effective institutions, public scandals surrounding high-ranking leaders, such as the wealth of Wen Jiabao’s family or the dramatic fall of Bo Xilai, and the malfeasance and corruption of middle and low-ranking officials, reveal that politics within the CCP may not be as orderly, managed and predictable as once imagined. 

But, of course, the Chinese regime has not collapsed and does not seem to be in its death throes. This is puzzling in some respects, because the country experiences annual protests that reportedly topped 180,000 as recently as 2010. Clearly popular discontent is high and Chinese citizens participate in contentious politics in large numbers, but these remain mostly localized affairs targeted at local issues, such as corrupt, low-ranking officials who engage in land grabs. Aside from the June 4 incident of 1989, they have not transformed into protest movements coordinated on a national scale and positioned against the central government itself, as appeared rapidly in Tunis and Egypt’s Tahrir square.

So why have Chinese citizens trended towards localized protests rather than the national protest movements seen in the Arab spring? As discussed in an important body of research, one source of this difference is linked to the structure of the state itself. In China, unlike most autocracies – including Mubarak’s Egypt and Ben Ali’s Tunisia—the state is highly decentralized. Local governments are given a substantial level of autonomy over development policies as well as social management – decisions related to dealing with popular challengers through repression or alternatively, the extension of concessions.

Since local authorities make decisions over the carrots and sticks used to address the demands of citizens with a high degree of autonomy, these officials rather than the national leadership or the regime itself are the primary target of most protest actions. In fact, it is a common phenomenon in China that aggrieved locals will appeal to the Center for assistance against corrupt local officials, even making reference to local officials’ poor enforcement of central directives and policies.Thus, the struggles faced by everyday Chinese are often directed at particular local officials and local issues, limiting the desire of protestors to take the dangerous leap of coordinating their actions across local communities to challenge the regime itself.

As a consequence, much like the Middle East, the years 2011 and 2012 have been ones characterized by very high levels of protest activities in China. However, because of the decentralized nature of the Chinese state, these battles have been ones won and lost by claimants contesting local officials rather than challenging the regime itself.

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cynicalskeptic's picture

Not good to roast marshmallows over THAT fire - toxic fumes, worse than the US military burn pits for waste.

Buck Johnson's picture

And that is the truth, only a matter of time.  But not only for China, for the US also.  Eventually there will be a revolution of ideas on the inequality of wealth and services to people.

Rubicon's picture

Business is not a democracy

Luckhasit's picture

"It always business, never personal"

-Nino Brown

CPL's picture

If you don't have a personal touch to delivery you don't have any business.

salvadordaly's picture

Damn you!!!!! Allright I'm back to the comments after 1 1/2 hours. It's bookmaked, I don't know why but it is. Now I know why I bookmarked it, cause I'm going back now, later hedgies, and curse you willwork4food!

JawsMusic's picture

China has a thriving economy that makes enough hard currency to feed its people.

Egypt not so much. I saw Egypt and continuing problems there as a reflection of the fact that egypt can't really generatre enough food either locally or by generating foriegn trade to to trade for food.

If you can't grow enough and have noting to sell your people stave.... hungry people are not stable...

China does not have that problem... yet...




Moe Howard's picture

I was in Egypt back in the early 1980's. USA wheat made into flat bread in government bakeries and distributed cheap everywhere.

Seemed to me that is what kept the rebellion at bay.

IcantstopthinkingaboutNINJAs's picture

And it crushes the local farmers of wheat.

cynicalskeptic's picture

Keep them fed and employed - even if what they're eating is crap and they're employed building empty cities.......   

The historical path would see China at war - likely with Russia - soon;  lots of fighting age men (and not enough women), a growing country short on energy and raw materials adjacent to a huge empty remnant of Empire (Siberia) full of raw materials, empty land and water....   but China seems to be buying friends and influence - and raw materials and energy and farmland.  Maybe the PLA is too busy running all its busionesses to go to war.   Could be a new paradigm,  The US goes broke fighting wars trying to secure energy and rtaw materials while China simply buys thoise things using all the $$$ they got making crap for the US.

Desert Irish's picture

I recall there was great expectations of a Chinese Spring during Europe's Spring in 1989 - Tiananmen Square proved the old adage - might is right. As Moa said "revolution comes from the barrel of a gun" why would that be any different today? Too many powerful interests determined to keep the quid pro and the peasants in their place. This has been going on for 5,000 years now.

Downtoolong's picture

However, because of the decentralized nature of the Chinese state, these battles have been ones won and lost by claimants contesting local officials rather than challenging the regime itself.

So there's your answer. Just add an "s" to make it plural, i.e., Chinese Springs, like a whole box of springs.

icanhasbailout's picture

There are plenty of Chinese springs but they're all defective

Ian56's picture

A better question would be :-

Why hasn't there been an American Spring to throw off the Yoke of Neocon Fascism and Plutocracy?

America is run by and for the elites to the detriment of 99.9% of the people - just like Egypt was.   



toady's picture

Beat me to it....

Why doesn't the headline ever read 'why no US Arab spring? '

It really is the only one that matters. It's the the only one that can end the fed & the petro $.

What did the Arab spring accomplish? Old dictators replaced by chaos, soon to be replaced by new dictators. China would / will be the same.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

At least a US revolution has a small chance of taking down the banksters...

TPTB_r_TBTF's picture

a fat chance of taking down the banksters.

Missiondweller's picture

There was. It was called the Tea Party.

But we were successfully painted as "racists & extremists" by the media.

granolageek's picture



I work for a gun company. Nobody there who isn't 2nd amendment friendly.

But all the ones who think that Obama is <b>personally</b> gonna show up in a black helicopter to take their guns away belong to the tea party.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

StychoKiller's picture

Would it be less rayciss if it were a pink helicopter?

So far, the only guns the current administration have been in favor of have ended up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels.  All you've demonstrated is your possession of faulty logic.

LawsofPhysics's picture

Ask anyone who has moved their manufacturing to china, there are no sheep like chinese sheep. American sheep are not quite there... ...yet.  They do what the party tells them, period.  American sheep have been distracted and have not realized that they have one party... ...yet.  The merican sheep must be disarmed before this awaking can occur.  All by design folks.

john39's picture

Chinese went through some pretty hard times in recent history...   Invasion, civil war, mass starvation (tens of millions dead) followed by the insanity of the cultural revolution.    lets see how Americans hold us as the overlords attempt to do the same to Americans as was done to the Chinese.

disabledvet's picture

with the 90's being America's "100 flowers bloom" and "now America has its cultural revolution" and we are all to be Xia Fang'ed (sent to the countryside to work with peasants.) Hmmm. There is much to what you speak. Have we progressed at all since the Great Depression? Or was the entire post World War II experience "but a myth to get us back to the grinding reality"? There are no shortages of "Gangs of Five" here. We call them "garage bands" also known as "indie rockers" or "punk bands" and "rappers." My personal favorite is called "Hollywood" actually. The first "moving picture" made in the USA i believe was of a train robbery. Interesting beginning to our "Edison Pictures" beautiful reproduction. i find the musical backdrop especially enjoyable for a "period piece." what say all of you?

StychoKiller's picture

The first movie ever made was called "The Kiss", the first long movie might have been "The Great Train Robbery."

IcantstopthinkingaboutNINJAs's picture

The pyramid schemes: family, society, government, military, school, work have lately turned into plantation schemes.  The American dream was simply to move up the pyramid.  In the plantation there is no moving up.

I think the early peoples that constructed these pyramids in the middle east, south america and asia were trying to warn us with their pyramids, not build tombs or altars.



The world is becoming flatter.... at least in terms of it's pyramid schemes.

Moe Howard's picture

The Chinese are good serfs. No need to rebel.

Stud Duck's picture

When the food prices rise again and jobs start declining, China will have its come to Jesus moment. Historically China has had political upheavals that appear spontaneously. There is no reason to beleive that it will not happen again.

As we watch the countries of North Africa as well as the countries of southern Europe slowly implode politically and economically, we will then pay the costly price of  the combination the intellectually lazy Keyensian and the morally corrupt Social Democracy. 

Then inevatable food shortages comming to these countries will most probably result in more killing of each other that will make Syria look like a small riot!

Things that go bump's picture

In China, the 1st emperor of a new dynasty always mounts the throne with bloody hands.

booboo's picture

The "Arab Spring" was just another ruse, really folks, arming muslims, providing free news coverage by the paid press, muslim brotherhood fills the vaccum. It is a MIC wet dream come true. I mean we couldn't just invade friendly Mubarak, UN hero "Q daffey" THis is long term investment money. Muslims revert to means (go goofy jihad) and bada boom bada bing add water instant "justified war". Again, why do you think they are allowing them in country like they are? jew got it!! so they can root out the "tarist" hding under your kids bed by blowing your front door off and dragging you into the streets. China? Hahaha. their wise tho this shit plus they don't have any rights to take away anyway. Remember what Imelt said, he  the admires the commie system, just mow the homes down build a factory.


JustObserving's picture

Why isn't there an American Spring?

We have more than our share of  "rising inequality, injustice, and corruption” that plagued much of the Arab world.

Ms. Erable's picture

Fuck China; why no American Spring?

Wait - don't answer that until I get back from maxing out my SNAP card at Walmart and catch up on viewing the most recent American Idol recordings from my DVR.

(edit: missed it by that much...)

Moe Howard's picture

American Idol viewership is dropping like a rock. What does that mean?

icanhasbailout's picture

It means I'm not the only one who thinks Nicky Minaj is an ugly, talentless hack.

toady's picture

I never got into 'reality tv', never watched american idle, but I saw that nicki whatever and thought damn, maybe I should watch that.

That's one hot slut.

You say she's a singer?

akak's picture

"American Idle"

I don't know if you wrote that on purpose or not, but it is brilliant in either case.

StychoKiller's picture

"American Idyll" would be too cheesy!

MedTechEntrepreneur's picture

There will be an American Spring. The Progressives are gut rotting everything they can. The crazed lesbian Big Sis hasnt bought 1.2 billion rounds of ammo for nothing.  All the Executive Orders for hitting the Kill Switch on the internet, suspending civil liberties etc....oh yeah...its coming.  And the Progressive Oligarchy is going down.

Flakmeister's picture

The answer to the question lies in a very different direction...

Do the Chinese subsidize food for it's populace on this level?

Egypt's wheat buyer Nomani removed

"What this person does is critical to the Egyptian political stability," said Hani Sabra, an analyst at Eurasia Group, a political risk and research company, speaking from New York.

"You have tens of millions of Egyptians dependent on subsidised bread.

"The country will collapse politically if there is no access to bread."

Combine this with the fact that the oil that Egypt used to export and provided for a source of hard currency to satisfy the demans of the largest wheat importer in the world is no longer there...

You do know that Egypt ceased to be an net oil exporter in ~2010? Do you?


Moe Howard's picture

Good catch. Makes sense. This is in line with my observation of the bread distribution in Egypt back in the 1980's. Kept the lid on.

disabledvet's picture

we became a net importer of oil in 1950. "prices only moved in one direction (higher) since." so now that we are on the cusp of becoming the world's major energy exporter prices will...

Flakmeister's picture

The US will never again be a net exporter of oil....

Read the full 166 page report... I did...

Whiner's picture

No oil in a Muslim society equals starvation. A closed society where the Mullas and American puppets hand out goodies.

Mad Cow's picture

Hey Cackmeister, what do you think will get us first, global warming or peak oil?

Atomizer's picture

America wirr continue to receive foreign aid from China. If timeline of changing US curture aren’t met, we will demand full payment on all outstanding bank notes.

partimer1's picture

Chinese economy has been growing rapidly in the last 30 years, and they have their own currency. If the economy is getting worse, the regime is in trouble. It's always the economy that matters the most. Democracy and politics are just bunch of BS to fool the public. The truth is always behind the scene. This is universally true.

Skip's picture

Because the "Arab Spring" was really the ZIONIST SPRING. Since the Zionists are on COZY terms with the ChiComs that is why there was no "Chinese Spring" Ehud Olmert's grandparents are from China. Jewish-Americans have been adopting Chinese mainland girls like crazy, especially in LA and NYC.