After the success of Tunisian protesters' revolt against their government earlier this year, anonymous Chinese counterparts began taking to the Internet to call for their own "Jasmine Revolution," organizing weekly pro-democracy demonstrations around the country. In an impressive display of the sort of thoroughness single-party states have developed a reputation for over the past near-century, Beijing has since gone after not just the people involved but their chosen symbol. As The New York Times reports
, authorities have sporadically blocked the Chinese characters for "jasmine" in text messages and done their best to erase videos of President Hu Jintao singing a Qing dynasty song about the flower from the Web. (Here's one.
) Local officials have even canceled this summer's China International Jasmine Cultural Festival.
Much like the initial calls on the Internet for protesters to "stroll silently holding a jasmine flower," the floral ban is shrouded in some mystery. The Beijing Public Security Bureau declined to answer questions about jasmine. But a number of cut flower and live plant business owners said they had been either visited by the police in early March or given directives indicating that it had become contraband. ...
Although some vendors were given vague explanations for the jasmine freeze -- that the plant was "symbolic" of those people who wanted to sow rebellion -- most people involved in the flower trade have been largely left in the dark about why they should behave with such vigilance, and some professed ignorance of the ban altogether. Thanks to a censored Internet, most Chinese have never heard of the protest calls in China, nor are they aware of the ensuing crackdown.
In the absence of concrete information, fantastic rumors have taken root. One wholesale flower vendor at the Jiuzhou Flower and Plant Trading Center in southern Beijing said he heard the ban had something to do with radiation contamination from Japan. A young woman hawking floral bouquets at Laitai, a large flower market near the United States Embassy, said she was told jasmine blossoms contained some unspecified poison that was killing people.