Revolution-breathing Dragon

The stability of the regime is more important to the Chinese than democracy and human rights.

Winds of change - maybe even drastic change - have been blowing recently in China, where the Year of the Dragon has just begun. According to experts in feng shui - Chinese geomancy - every Year of the Dragon is a gateway to huge events that can change human life forever.

That was the case in 1964, which led to the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution; that was the case in 1976, when the founders of the Communist Party Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai passed away. In 1988 the Year of the Dragon led to the events at Tiananmen Square and in 2000 - to the World Trade Center disaster.

It is possible to scoff at the belief, which is based on a collection of ancient teachings connected to vital energy, but it seems impossible to remain indifferent to what has been happening in China recently. It is with good reason that this week The Economist decided to devote a separate section to the country.

The giant power, according to the weekly, is expected to "fascinate and agitate the rest of the world for a long time to come," and with justification: This past week in the province of Sichuan the most fatal spurt of violence in many years broke out between police and Tibetan demonstrators. In Hong Kong, there are increasing numbers of reports about tension between inhabitants of the former British colony and the central government. But above all, there has been the incredible affair of the revolt of the small fishing village Wukan in Guangdong Province, which rose up as one against the expropriation of lands and official corruption - and vanquished the authorities.

The heroism of the village has become a model for many. Haimen, Wangang, Dalian, Zengcheng, Dongguan - these are just some of the remote villages that have made headlines after challenging the authorities. Whether the protesters acted to prevent the construction of a power station on their land or the conversion of their fields into waste dumps, or simply to voice the outcry of the oppressed - all of them wanted to be Wukan.

According to one estimate there are about 600,000 (! ) potential Wukans that are suffering from abuses by the establishment; the number of mass "incidents" - a Chinese euphemism for demonstrations and protests - reached about 90,000 in 2011.

And if that is the case, can Wukan become China's Muhammad Bouazizi? Can the banner of revolt raised by the small village ignite a revolution of a magnitude similar to the one ignited by the Tunisian peddler when he set himself alight?

The experts are enumerating the following reasons that China is not likely to follow the Arab world:

Social mobility in China is high. The Communist Party's effective recruitment system draws in young people, students and labor unionists; a revolution needs a coalition of social classes but in China the gaps are large and every sector - workers, farmers, labor migrants, the middle class - looks after its own interests only.

The control of protest venues is kept tight. On the one hand, the regime operates propaganda, censorship and networks of informers; on the other hand it is attentive to protest and sometimes even encourages it in order to enable the public to let off steam and to identify corruption at the local level.

The steady 8 to 10 percent rate of growth in recent years has led to a greatest decrease in poverty in recent history (440 million people have been rescued from it), an increase in the standard of living and the growth of the idle and upper classes: In the coming year there will be a million millionaires in China.

Therefore the stability of the regime is more important to the Chinese than democracy and human rights. Today they have too much to lose, say the commentators. "If I had to bet on who will fall apart faster, China or the United States," says Prof. Yuri Pines from Hebrew University, "I'd put my money on the latter."

The spreading corruption, rampant industrialization, the expropriation of lands and the environmental pollution along with the suppression of freedoms, minorities and religions all threaten the experts' analyses. A slowdown in growth, increasing gaps between social classes and a bursting of the Chinese real estate bubble could prove them totally wrong.

President Shimon Peres likes to quote David Ben-Gurion, who declared that the experts' expertise always boils down to what has already happened, and not what is going to happen.

"Without economic growth the Communist Party will become history," warned another "Old Man," Deng Xiaoping.

The last word, most probably, will be said on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, to which "only" half a billion Chinese have linked up in recent years. Their word will be loudly heard around the world.

Read this article in Hebrew