It was raining the day three militants, accompanied by a fourth there to photograph the scene, unfurled a banner reading, "A party is not the same as a country. The Chinese Communist Party doesn't represent the people." In the center of the photo from that day, 23-year-old Jia Pin is holding up another message that reads, "Democracy, Liberty, Human Rights, Constitutional Government." At his side a follower carries an even more incendiary one that says, "Unelected parties are outlaws."At least in my experience, these are not unrepresentative of the (unspoken except in safe circumstances) sentiments of a good portion of the Chinese people regarding their government, though it should also be said that a good portion also buys either largely or wholly into the government's message of their rule being solely benevolent. The poignant thing here is just how small the so-called "Nanfang Street Movement" actually is:
"there are only about 10 activists willing to demonstrate publicly," says Wu Kuiming, a lawyer in Guangzhou who defends members of the Nanfang Street Movement when they are arrested. "Quite a few people support the group, but very few are prepared to risk being arrested during a demonstration," says Wu.The contrast with 25 years ago, when hundreds of thousands of people marched throughout China demanding reform, to today's dissidents, who would struggle to assemble enough people in one place to form a football team, couldn't be more striking.
It is hard not have a feeling of dread when reading this article, knowing that many of the people described in this article will eventually end up either in jail, in exile, or harassed to the point of quitting, because this is what has happened to every other attempt to organise dissident movements in China since 1989. For anyone who has been watching Chinese affairs for more than a few years, there is something nostalgic in reading dissidents putting their faith in the power of the internet, and in government promises of modernisation and reform - since this was exactly how dissidents like Liu Di spoke ten years ago.
Does this then necessarily mean that groups like the "Nanfang Street Movement" are doomed to the same over-all failure that has encompassed organisations like Charter 08? Perhaps not, though nothing short of an economic slow-down that no-one wants to see (but which may be programmed in to China's current development model) could conceivably create the opening for reform that they are looking for.