Watching the Pyramids From Inside the Great Wall

by Ella Chou

As Mubarak steps down in the midst of jubilation, Beijing is fretting in its sleep. It has done everything it could to damp down the information: it has censored the web, banned search terms, yet people in China still stayed up to several hours past midnight following the news.

Reading through some of the comments on news reports on Egypt that have not yet been censored, on Chinese microblogs (their search engine has banned terms related to Egypt), and on the Chinese Twittersphere, I see four general messages:

1. Congratulations

Netizen from Xian, Shan'xi: It's the people's victory!   2011-02-12 02:15:13

Netizen from Pudong, Shanghai: A great victory! Egyptians, you did it!   2011-02-12 02:02:16

Netizen from Huai'an, Jiangsu: Heard the news, I didn't sleep tonight to make this comment. Cheers! And hope Egypt would have a smooth transition to democrasy. (the word "democracy" in Chinese is filtered.)

Netizen from Hulun Buir, Inner Mongolia: It's the victory of Twitter Revolution!

2. On Military

Reminiscent of the outcome of 1989 Tian'anmen demonstration, the Chinese netizens were extremely impressed by the position the Egyptian military took in the movement.

Netizen from Jiapeng: The Egyptian people won their victory. The Egyptian military is truely the people's army. People of generations to come will always remember the Generals of the Egyptian military.

Chinese twitter user: Thoughts on the Egyptian democracy movement: their army is really the people's army; China only has the Party's army.

Chinese twitter user: I'm so jealous of the Egyptian people. Why is it that their military won't open fire on their people?!

3. On Autocracy

Some Chinese netizens go further and were more explicit in opposing autocracy and authoritarian control, but in their expressions are frustration and the sense that nothing could be changed in their own country, at least at the moment.

Netizen from Beijing: Democracy cannot be obstructed; autocrats go die! Netizen from Dongwan, Guangdong commenting on this: Yes! But what about China?

CEO of a real estate consulting firm, posting on Sina microblog: What conclusion can we draw from the fact that the autocracy in Egypt failed but the autocracies in North Korea and Cuba are strong as ever? What conclusion can we draw from the success of the American democracy and the anti-autocracy wave around the world? Don't make hasty conclusions, but don't expect the public to accept complex but real conclusions either. Without a sound economic base, there will not be a real democracy!

4. On Democracy

CEO of eCapital Corporation, posting on Sina microblog: Whether or not the Egyptian people have won true victory depends on who will succeed to power. I hope after the transition period, there will be a democratically-elected leader, not a successor appointed by Mubarak, and certainly not a military person. Getting rid of an autocrat brings people brief happiness, but it is the way in which the next leader comes about that determines the future happiness of the people.

Netizen writing on Sina microblog (the post is now gone): The current chaos in Egypt is a result of being poor, not the "suppression of the autocracy". Their economic condition is exacerbated by the poor global economic situation, and that is a result of U.S. financial crisis. So don't think Egypt's "democracy and anti-autocracy" movement is the color revolutions and get all excited. Don't think of yourselves as world soldiers to jump over the Great Firewall (China's internet filtering mechanism) to support the cause.

Secretary of Shandong Business Guilt in Shanghai: In a society where the roots of democracy are shallow, can political party rotation bring economic prosperity and freedom and democracy at the same time?

Reading snippets of comments from Chinese netizens will not give you a full picture of people's real sentiments about the situation in Egypt. Nor do the netizens represent the majority of the Chinese population who are even less informed.

What I see from the comments on different websites is that there is a variety of voices: many express support and desire for democracy, but the status quo is too entrenched that a similar democratic movement or drastic change is unthinkable in China.

As some comments alluded to, economic development is crucial to the Chinese Communist Party's hold on power. If China's economic growth slows down, the huge income gap is likely to result in more instabilities, and that's when Beijing will lose its sleep.

Ella Chou, who grew up in Hangzhou, China, is a graduate student in Regional Studies - East Asia at Harvard University, studying law and comparative politics.