China facing new calls for jasmine revolution
China is facing fresh attempts to foment a jasmine-style revolution after anonymous overseas activists called for non-violent demonstrations in 18 cities across China this weekend to press for an end to one-party rule.
The rallying call comes a week after a similar invitation posted on the overseas Chinese website Boxun.com, ended in near farce with journalists, curious onlookers and police far outnumbering any potential protestors.
Despite this apparent initial failure, which was openly scorned by China's state media as "performance art", the boxun.com blog site asked again for what it called "strolling protests" against the ruling Communist Party at 2pm on Sunday.
"We invite every participant to stroll, watch, or even just pretend to pass by. As long as you are present, the authoritarian government will be shaking with fear," it said.
China's soaring economic growth in the last few decades, which has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, is often said to have dulled any appetite among ordinary Chinese for the kind of revolutionary chaos seen in the Middle East in recent weeks.
However despite the apparent solidity of its powerbase, China's ruling Communist Party has shown signs of growing nervousness in recent weeks as street protests sweep away autocratic regimes across the Middle East.
As well as the massive deployment of uniformed police, China's pervasive state security apparatus has worked to neuter the spread of dissent online as well as placing as many as 100 activists and potential organisers under house arrest.
Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, in a highly unusual public intervention into the realm of social policy, made a speech to Party bosses urging tighter controls of the "virtual society" and greater efforts to guide public opinion in "healthy directions" or risk greater "social conflicts".
That speech was followed in successive days by public warnings from senior Party figures for better management of the tensions and social grievances arising out of China's rapid economic transformation.
"Many believe that China will emerge from its period of social transformation in a steady and peaceful manner," added an editorial in the party mouthpiece People's Daily, "But... it is not totally unfeasible that the nation could fall into social turmoil should its public governance fail." The call for the fresh Jasmine rallies was cast as an open letter to China's a rubber-stamp parliament, National People's Congress, which opens its annual meeting on March 5 and is always considered a sensitive moment in the Chinese political calendar.
The activists, signing themselves anonymously as "organizers of China's Jasmine gatherings" urged people to shout, "We want food! We want work! We want housing! We want fairness!".
The slogans aim at key issues in China at a time of rising inflation, a growing rich-poor divide and frequent outbursts of anger at the levels of official corruption and cronyism.
"What we need to do now is to put pressure on the Chinese ruling (Communist) party," said the renewed appeal which listed locations in 18 cities across China for the protests.
"If the party does not conscientiously fight corruption and accept the supervision of the people, then will it please exit the stage of history." Although the boxun.com website is blocked in China, news of the call did appear to be leaking onto some corners of the Chinese internet where some tech-savvy users employ special software to circumvent web controls.
Attempts to search China's most popular microblog site, Sina Weibo for the word "jasmine" were blocked but Twitter users were discussing the Jasmine protest call under the generic prefix "£CN227" – a reference to Sunday's date, February 27.
"I am planning to wander around Wangfujing [the designated protest site in Beijing] on Sunday," wrote one contributor, "Shall I bring light jasmine tea or honey jasmine tea?"