Lost in the media churn created by the Islamic State, the Ukrainian civil war, the growing ebola crisis and the Ferguson race riots over the last few months, these other things have happened in the world’s most populous nation:
– In Hong Kong, police fired tear gas and conducted a baton charge against pro-democracy demonstrators who brought the busy city’s center to a standstill over the weekend, resulting in dozens of injuries (but who really knows how many; it is China, after all). This was the worst unrest in Hong Kong since the former British colony was transferred back to Chinese authority in 1997. Two weeks ago, democracy-minded protesters raised hell over the fact that authorities were only allowing candidates officially sanctioned by Beijing to run for the territory’s top public office.
– In the restive far western province of Xinjiang, authorities raised the death toll of an apparent terrorist attack to 50. Turkic-speaking Uyghurs, many of them Muslims, have chafed against Chinese efforts to suppress their culture, language and religion.
– In July, China’s version of Bill O’Reilly was arrested just a few hours before his program was scheduled to air. Rui Chenggang, who was known as much for his nationalistic views as he was for big-name interviews, was implicated in a wide corruption probe that apparently ensnared his patron, the former head of China Central Television, and the former top general of the People’s Liberation Army.
– In March, eight men and women armed with knives rampaged through a train station in the city of Kunming – leaving 29 dead and 140 others wounded. Authorities blamed the attack on separatist Uyghurs.
– In October of last year, an SUV plowed through a busy street leading to the front entrance of the Forbidden City, killing five (three occupants and two bystanders) and injuring dozens. Chinese authorities announced that the “masterminds” were executed – after confessing, of course.
Rather than big trouble, I’d call it a slow simmer just under the surface. Yes, the Middle Kingdom has enjoyed incredible (but unsustainable) economic growth over the past several decades, yet symptoms have festered. Massive socioeconomic issues involving city and country folk will continue to drive a wedge between the haves and have-nots. A sophisticated and growing middle class will yearn for greater opportunities for personal fulfillment. And all of these people – from the Uyghurs in the west (including the law-abiding ones) to college-educated snobs in Shanghai – will persist in their desires of greater political freedom.
So enjoy the lotus garden while it lasts, comrades. There are probably some pebbles coming your way that will cause a ripple here or there.