Ho-fung Hong has an interesting post up on the Wukan protests and the history of popular protest in Imperial China.1 While in the Western media protests like Wukun are usually presented as signs of the impending crack-up of China, Hong argues, correctly I think, that they need to be read as part of the history of Chinese forms of protest. Protests of any sort are culturally constructed, meaning that different actions have different meanings in different cultures. Wukan involved some violence.
which in many western cultures is the red line between protest and rebellion, but for Hong it was at its heart a petition movement.2 Petitions, no matter how presented, acknowledge the legitimacy of state power (in this case the central government rather than local) and the supposed benevolence of the rulers is assumed, otherwise why petition? As a bit of confirmation of these different ways of viewing things the Financial Times seems surprised that protest leader Lin Zuluan has been appointed Party secretary “capping a potential breakthrough in the way Beijing deals with dissent.” But of course bringing protest leaders into the fold is very much part of the Chinese tradition for dealing with dissent. It’s too bad Hong skips over the Republican period, (He implies you can draw a straight line from the Qing to the present) but it’s only a blog post.