Tiananmen 2.0: Why China Is Not Immune to the Tunisia Effect

Tendor, Students for a Free Tibet’s Executive Director, looks at the nonviolent revolutions sweeping the Middle East and the prospects for change in China and Tibet in an article for the Huffington Post.

As people power explodes across the Arab world ­– first in Tunisia, then in Egypt, now in Bahrain, Libya and elsewhere — one can’t help but wonder if we may be witnessing the fourth wave of democratization. If so, can 1.5 billion people living under the Chinese Communist Party ride this wave to democracy and freedom?

Before the dust has settled on the Arab spring, analysts are citing poverty, unemployment and corruption as the three main causes of the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Arguing that these socioeconomic conditions and statistics are missing in today’s China, some are quick to dismiss any possibility of Beijing’s rule being shaken by the Tunisia effect. But let us remember an enduring lesson from history. Statistics don’t make revolutions; people do.


People rise up not just because they are poor or unemployed; people rise up when they believe change is possible. After the success of the Tunisian revolution, millions of Egyptians suddenly found new hope and poured into the streets to demand change. In fact, in both Tunisia and Egypt, the revolution was not led by the poor and unemployed; it was organized and largely executed by the educated, online, middle class youth who wanted a say in the way their country was run. If revolutions are created by poverty and unemployment, why are we seeing an uprising in Bahrain, an international banking center with an educated, middle class majority? If Chinese youth are financially better off today than a decade ago, it makes them more — not less — likely to demand freedom and democracy.

However, while hope can mobilize people, it cannot guarantee success, which depends on strategy and tools. The mass convergences in Tunis and Cairo that filled our TV screens for weeks were preceded by months and years of behind-the-scenes strategic planning, training and organizing by groups of activists and youth leaders, who wielded the power of the internet in their nonviolent struggle.

The internet has decentralized power and exponentially strengthened the grassroots. Wael Ghonim, one of the heroes of the Egyptian uprising, said it best, “If you want to liberate a society, just give them the internet.” According to Mr. Ghonim, who aptly called their uprising “Revolution 2.0,” the Egyptian revolution began online.

Is China ready for a revolution 2.0?

Read the full article here.