Date of this Version
July 2, 2008 in The China Beat http://www.thechinabeat.org/
Of course, the easy answer to this question is: Because there is almost no freedom of assembly in China and there are big restrictions on freedom of expression. But I have started to realize that this answer is too simple. The people I have been talking to, even well-educated and international people, have a gut reaction to the idea of public protests that is unfavorable.
I have been discussing the issue of protests during the Olympic Games with Chinese colleagues, friends, and acquaintances from academic, government, and corporate backgrounds. The people whose views I summarize here are college-educated (in China), middle-class, internationally-informed (but not educated abroad), and between the ages of 30 and 55. I would guess that their political stance is close to the mainstream (though since Chinese people don’t vote for top leaders, there’s no clear barometer of their political stances like “Republican” or “Democrat”).
Some of them expressed that the protests surrounding the torch relay presented a new view of the West, because they did not fully understand that such protests are common there. My guess is that while they knew about them, perhaps they had never seen so many visual images on TV and in the media. However, it seems to me that the way in which this coverage was handled in China left many people with the false impression that protests like these occur in London and Paris nearly every day, a portrait they regard with distaste. Let me to try to outline the system of beliefs that produces this reaction.