China: Internet call for "Jasmine Revolution" attracts small turnout, mainly police


Police keep watch along the Wanfujing shopping street in Beijing after protesters gathered on Feb. 20, 2011. Postings circulating on the Internet called on disgruntled Chinese to gather in public places in 13 major cities to mark the "Jasmine Revolution" spreading through the Middle East.


Peter Parks

Police in China showed up in force in several major cities after an online call for a "jasmine revolution," encouraging citizens to stage protests at 2 p.m. in Beijing, Shanghai and 11 other major cities.

Wary of any domestic dissent, the authorities detained activists, increased the number of police on the streets, disconnected some mobile phone text messaging services and censored internet postings about the call, according to the Associated Press.

Up to 100 leading Chinese rights lawyers and activists have disappeared since Saturday, with police also descending onto protest sites around the nation, campaigners said.

But according to the AP, many activists said they didn't know who was behind the campaign and weren't sure what to make of the call to protest, which first circulated Saturday on the U.S.-based, Chinese-language news website

And the campaign reportedly did not gain much traction among ordinary citizens. Beijing maintains tight controls over the media and internet, and hundreds, even thousands, were killed when a student-led, pro-democracy movement in 1989 was crushed by the military.

The chances of overthrowing the Communist government are considered slim.

"We welcome... laid off workers and victims of forced evictions to participate in demonstrations, shout slogans and seek freedom, democracy and political reform to end 'one party rule,' " one internet posting said.

Protesters were urged to shout slogans including "We want food to eat", "We want work", "We want housing", "We want justice", "Long live freedom" and "Long live democracy."

According to postings on web forums, only a few demonstrators appeared in other cities, although large police contingents were seen at designated protest spots in Shanghai, Harbin, Guangzhou and Chengdu.

Reports from Shanghai and Beijing said there appeared to be many onlookers curious about the presence of so many police and journalists at the proposed protest sites, in busy city-center shopping areas.

"I don't think the call to protest was serious, no one really intended to protest because there are too many police," leading rights lawyer Li Jinsong told Agence France-Presse.

"By taking this so seriously, police are showing how concerned they are that the Jasmine Revolution could influence China's social stability," referring to the revolt in Tunisia that kicked off similar uprisings in the Arab world.