End dictatorship: China activists

Their banners have urged an end to China’s “dictatorship”, scorned the regime as “rogue” and dared leaders to disclose their assets as a step against graft -- all dangerous calls under Communist Party rule.

AFP| Last Updated: Dec 31, 2013, 09:41 AM IST

Guanzhou: Their banners have urged an end to China’s “dictatorship”, scorned the regime as “rogue” and dared leaders to disclose their assets as a step against graft -- all dangerous calls under Communist Party rule.

The Southern Street Movement, a loose network of laymen-activists in Guangdong province, is testing China’s limits with overtly political demands and ambitions to inspire placard-waving protests nationwide.

The province has a tradition of defiance -- a trade hub long exposed to the outside world, it was the birthplace of Sun Yat-sen, the revolutionary who ended millennia of imperial rule in China in 1911.

Yet the dissent-wary government has mounted a growing crackdown on activists this year and a smattering of participants has been detained.
Protesters must overcome their fear, says Xie Wenfei, a 37-year-old from central China whose business card declares him a “Southern Street Movement activist” and proclaims: “If you see injustice and remain silent, you have sided with evil.”

He raised a sign calling for an end to “one-party dictatorship” in the provincial capital Guangzhou in September, earning himself a month in detention.

“Lots of friends called me to say if you pull out this banner then for sure you’ll be arrested,” he said. “But I had to do the right thing. I told them someone has to do this.

“First I wanted to tell my like-minded friends to break through the fear.

“Second I wanted to tell the Communist Party that the way they are doing things cannot last. They have lost their legitimacy in the eyes of the people and the law.”
The movement started in 2011 with monthly protests at a park, said Wang Aizhong, a closely involved 37-year-old businessman, and they organised mini-rallies perhaps dozens of times this year.

Many have called for officials to reveal their assets, for detained activists to be released, and for an end to one-party rule.

“We see the Southern Street Movement as a resistance movement having no organisation, no leader and no formal programme,” Wang said, adding that they wanted to “inspire the rest of the country.”

“There is no one single or set demand, but a lot of the political demands are aimed at one goal, which is to end this dictatorship.”

The movement has mostly attracted the migrant workers who have flocked to Guangdong, a manufacturing powerhouse and China’s most prosperous province.

More people were drawn in following January protests supporting the liberal Guangzhou-based newspaper, Southern Weekly, after its New Year editorial was censored.