No, Not Ducks!

China bans all references to ‘Big Yellow Duck’ in lead up to Tiananmen Square anniversary | Information, Gadgets, Mobile Phones News & Reviews |

June 4,  1989, was the original protest, shut down by Chinese authorities in a most brutal and oppressive manner.  Although most Chinese are unaware of the massacre, today’s anniversary brought a surprise of sorts to China’s Internet :

Ducks instead of tanks.  Authorities were quick to remove the image from any site it popped up on behind the “Great Firewall.”

The ban on the popular duck comes as Chinese police are blocking the gate of a cemetery housing victims of the Tiananmen crackdown on its 24th anniversary, part of a sweeping annual effort to bar commemorations of the event.

Genghis Khan Would Not Be Pleased


Inner Mongolia: Little Hu and the mining of the grasslands | The Economist.

LOCAL legend has it that the beauty of the grasslands in Xilin Gol, a prefecture in eastern Inner Mongolia, so captivated the 13th-century warrior Genghis Khan that he planned to settle down there once his battles were over.

But the grasslands are disappearing into the maw of giant machines that scrape coal from the ground.  Ethnic Mongolians, who make up about 20% of the province’s population, are upset with what they see as land grabs by corrupt officials and giant corporations.

Hu Chunhua, the provincial communist Party chief, is working hard to quell the unrest.  Mr. Hu is believed to be a favorite of China’s current leader Hu Jintao, who is said to be preparing the young Mr. Hu for higher office.  But what seemed to be an easy job in booming Inner Mongolia has proved to be more difficult than expected.

The mining is ripping up the delicate grasslands for both coal and rare earths such as germanium, used in making solar cells and wind turbines.  This mining also depletes the scarce water supply.

Land disputes between miners and Mongol herders became commonplace. In a typical incident, in May 2011, a group of Mongol herders was trying to stop mining lorries crossing and churning up grassland near their homes about 110km (70 miles) north-east of Xilinhot. During the night, a lorry driven by an ethnic Han Chinese driver hit one of the herders, called Mergen (single-named, like many Mongols). It dragged him over the grassland for 150 metres, killing him.

Protests erupted, leading to a march on the provincial capitol.  They spread as far south as Shangdu, the site of Kubla Khan’s “pleasure domes.”

Mr. Hu responded with force, calling out paramilitary police to patrol the areas.

In the provincial capital, Hohhot, university students were temporarily barred from leaving campuses and the central square was sealed off by security forces.

How will China’s leaders manage both the country’s need for energy and the ethnic minority’s need to maintain their heritage?  How will his response affect Mr. Hu’s chances of rising within the ranks of the Communist Party?

…grievances over the environment and land rights are widespread across China, as shown last week by large-scale and violent protests against the building of a copper-alloy factory in the south-western city of Shifang. Even if most Mongols are not yearning for independence, Mr Hu cannot relax.

Where Does Your Coffee Come From?

Asia Times Online :: Coffee colonialism in Laos.

Asia Times Online :: Coffee colonialism in Laos

VIENTIANE – It is an increasingly familiar tale in Laos: poor farmers are pushed off their ancestral lands by corrupt local officials to make way for capital-rich, foreign-invested plantation agriculture.

But some of the local farmers are beginning to fight back.  When the governor of The area around Paksong granted land concessions to  Asian coffee giant Outspan Boloven, local farmers began to organize.

The farmers have staged rare protests in communist-run Laos, bringing national attention to their grass roots plight and perceived high level corruption in the land deal. Puan, a thin, angular-faced man involved in the fight, said during a recent trip to the national capital to air grievances, “We will die for our land.”

Organic coffee from the Boloven Plateau is famous around the world, and brings a steady income for the smallholder farmers in the area.  After the communist government outlawed shifting agriculture, the farmers planted commercial trees, coffee, and other subsistence crops.  The income from the land enabled them to pay their taxes and make a living for their families.

But after the coffee company gained the land,

Outspan Boloven brought in tractors and leveled the ground without any local consultations. “They worked day and night. The noise and light did not allow us to sleep,” Puan grumbled. “We went out and tried to stop them, but they told us we had no rights anymore as the land had been granted by the governor.”

Drawing a parallel to what is happening in Indonesian palm oil plantations, filmmaker Serge Marti says  “Companies often destroy graveyards and shrines to eradicate claims of ancestral ownership and demoralize communities.”

Video shot in the contested area in Paksong a week before the delegation arrived in Vientiane showed piles of burnt and smoking timber and bamboo clumps. Bare earth exposed by company bulldozers is ringed by openly distraught villagers.

Land-grabbing is on the rise in Asia and other parts of the world without clear land titles.  This is fueling unrest among the smallholders, who have little recourse against giant corporations and their own government.  Many farmers are turning to the outside world, trying to expose the corruption and injustice:

“This is our dignity and our lives” he said. “We are not afraid to die.”

Protesting Social Protests

Contrary to the general enthusiasm over Anna Hazare’s fast over Lokpal bill, the dalits have struck a divergent note, warning that the government should not accept the Gandhian’s demand against parliamentary processes, saying it would set a dangerous trend and make backward classes vulnerable.

via Dalits come out against Anna Hazare’s fast – The Times of India.

The no-caste dalits, formerly called untouchables, are not opposed to Hazare’s quest to rid Indian government of corruption.  Rather, they fear that social protests sidestep the democratic process, and if these protests succeed, the next one might be against them.

Dalit intellectuals said the possibility of mass mobilisation forcing a “set of solutions” on the Centre against constitutional processes raised fears that affirmative action could be a victim of similar techniques.

For thousands of years dalits lived on the fringes of Indian society; they were not allowed to mix with any of the varnas, or upper-class, castes.  When India finally won it’s independence from Britain in 1959 the caste system, a part of the Hindu faith, was outlawed.  In recent memory a system of affirmative action has been established, guaranteeing dalits seats in Parliament, access to a college education, and a quota in the job market.  If the majority of Indians protest against these quotas that could ” sound the death knell for SC quota in jobs and education” for dalits.

Common Concern, a group of dalit intellectuals, met on Tuesday and expressed opposition to corruption in sociological terms. “Dalits face corruption not from bureaucracy but from civil society where caste system is the biggest oppressor. And this civil society wants to overturn the Constitution which has given us respite from caste system,” was its refrain.

Although the caste system has been outlawed, it is still a major problem for the 25% of Indians who belong to the group.

Cafeteria Democracy

via The West’s ‘double standards’ in Middle East – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.

“We are not only facing a regime and neighbouring powers, but American influence as well. They either do not want to see change or only slight changes that do not give people real democracy because the monarchy might lose power. Everyone sees the US double standards very clearly now. They see Gaddafi hitting people and the US strike back. But here they even bring in foreign armies who don’t believe in democracy and killing people on streets and the US does nothing. It is a big mistake the Americans are making, losing people, losing the faith of the streets.”

The US wants to pick and choose, cafeteria-style, which protests to support and which to ignore.  According to many Middle-Easterners, it does so at the risk of losing the respect of the very people we need to help us fight radical terrorists.

The article points out that by encouraging violent resistance, as opposed to the peaceful protests in Egypt and Yemen, the US may be setting an unfortunate precedent:  more protesters may begin to use violence in Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain.

As it happens, in Bahrain, where the movement refuses to move towards violence so far, things have only gotten worse since the crackdown. Rajab declared with a hint of exasperation:

“More people died and injured. The gap between the ruling elite and the people is getting wider and wider. The government is trying hard to incite sectarianism, frightening both Bahraini Sunnis and neighbouring countries, which is why they sent troops to Bahrain. Indeed, by refusing to take a strong stand, did the US not open the way for the Saudis to take control of the situation for their interests. Look, the Bahrainis could have used their own police, not even the army, just the police, to stop this, because we were peaceful.”

But they brought in the Saudis and GCC specifically to regionalise the conflict and raise the stakes.

Some peaceful protesters also feel they have not gotten the publicity that Egyptians and Tunisians had:

Rajab also feels, as many do many Bahraini pro-democracy and their supporters, that Al Jazeera has not done enough to cover the protests, a dynamic which proved so important in increasing support for protesters in Tunisia and Egypt.

What will happen in the region?  How will the US protect its interest and the fledgling democracy movements as well?

As Syria, Jordan and even Morocco see protests that are turning increasingly deadly, the era of the authoritarian bargain in the Middle East is clearly over.

What replaces it across the region has become the most compelling question in global politics today.

Up Next – Yemen

via Yemen police massacre 45 protesters | World news | The Guardian

At least 45 people were killed and hundreds of others wounded as security forces and plainclothes government loyalists opened fire on protesters trying to march through the capital, Sana’a.

The youngest and poorest of the Arab world, the country is being racked by protests just like Egypt and Libya.  At the center is Sana’a University, where over 100,000 people marched today after Friday prayers.  It seemed to be a mostly peaceful march, until soldiers and plainclothes police opened fire.

Yemen has a population of  24 million, and a growth rate of 2.6%.   Its GNI PPP per capita is 2,340.  The dictator has been in power for over 3 decades, and is not likely to be moved by protesters.

The intensification of force used against demonstrators has led to concern that protesters will retaliate, threatening the possibility of a broad war that could engulf the country.

“In Yemen, violence is almost always met with more violence. If the regime does not stop these crackdowns immediately then we will soon find ourselves in the throngs of a bloody civil war,” said Mohammed al-Faqih, professor of politics at Sana’a University.

What We Talked About in Class


via Egyptian protests: How a food crisis is driving a political crisis. – By Annie Lowrey – Slate Magazine


Any number of political and social factors underpins the current unrest in Egypt—and as always, economics figures in. The upheaval has shined a light on two serious problems facing the country: Most jobs pay too little, and most food costs too much.

Like we talked about in class,

Egyptians spent more on food than respondents in any other emerging economy surveyed in the report—about 40 percent of their monthly income, versus about 17 percent for Brazilians and about 20 percent for Chinese and Saudi Arabians.

Why is the price of food so high?  Partly the high cost of fuel – Egypt has to import most of its grain, and partly due to floods and droughts in food-producing countries like Russia and Australia.

Combined with high unemployment for young people, men especially, it’s no surprise that Egypt has erupted.



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