When gunshots and fire rampaged Kiev’s Independence Square, many observers likened it to Ukraine’s “Tiananmen” moment, referring to the year 1989 when Chinese government killed many student protesters in Beijing. Despite the easy parallel, Beijing has focused a lot of media attention on the turmoil in Ukraine, in the hope that it will teach its own citizens a lesson that anti-government uprisings won’t lead to prosperity, but rather chaos.
Are the Chinese people buying into the official narrative? Well…yes and no. Yes because there are indeed many who hail to the Ukrainians:“It’s a victory of democracy!” Last week in Hunan, two protesters openly expressed their support with a banner that read “Congratulations to the Ukrainians on their victory of freedom.”
But more take the stance of their government. What they’ve learned from Ukraine is that democracy isn’t the answer to all problems, and that China doesn’t need a violent revolution.
To many of them, the conclusion that the Ukrainians have won a victory of democracy is but the wishful thinking of the “sometimes naive” Chinese liberals. A popular comment shared by many Chinese netizens sarcastically summed up the situation: “When Ukraine declared independence in 1991, the Ukrainians won a victory of democracy. When Leonid Kuchma won the 1994 presidential election, the Ukrainians won a victory of democracy…for the second time. When Yushchenko won the 2005 presidential election, the Ukrainians won a victory of democracy…for a third time. In 2010 when Yanukovych was elected president, the Ukrainians won yet another victory of democracy. Now in 2014, Ukraine is without a president, the Ukrainians are still winning a victory of democracy.”
Even law professor Dong Zhiwei, a long-standing advocate of constitutionalism in China, called the anti-government protests in Ukraine a “coup” that is more of a clash between different power groups than between democracy and authoritarian rule.
Such view is in line with China’s official argument that the so-called “hostile Western forces” are behind the uprisings in many countries, including in China, such as the “separatists” in Tibet and Uyghur. Beijing has long been pushing the notion that “Western style democracy” won’t work in China and that China should be confident about its own unique way of development. The current turmoil in Ukraine seems to have convinced many people that Beijing is right.
In response to the news that Ukraine needs immediate financial aid of $35 billion, many Chinese netizens sarcastically asked: “Isn’t democracy good enough? Why do they still need financial aid?” One netizen 化学佬唐 commented: “A victory of democracy that ends in begging is worth nothing.”
Another netizen 李山泉博客 put Ukraine in the same bracket of Arab Spring: “How many successful examples of bottom-up democracy are there? Most ended in violent clashes. Even in cases where the ruling governments were successfully overthrown, happy endings are few. Take a look at what happened in recent years. How about Libya now? Egypt? Syria? Venezuela? Thailand? Ukraine?”
From the Arab Spring to the current Ukraine revolution, many China observers have been asking the same question: “When are Chinese citizens going to take to the streets?” The matter of fact, however, is that the masses in China seem to get the opposite inspiration. They are more likely to riot over choking air than for democracy. As one netizen 健安路平 pointed out: “Thank God that violent clashes like the ones in Ukraine didn’t happen in China. No one wants to die for the ambitions of greedy politicians.”
Last week in the northern city of Jinan, several protesters held banners (picture below) in support of the “revolution” in Ukraine: “The Ukrainians are free. How long will we Chinese have to wait?” Judging by the reactions from their fellow Chinese citizens, it will be a pretty long wait.