Alan Baumler: Sinai-etic Analogies
[Alan Baumler teaches East Asian history at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.]
Jeremiah Jenne has a post up at Fallows1 where he looks at the possibility of a Jasmine Revolution in China. He concludes that it is not that likely, as the CCP is a bit more hip to the dangers of that sort of thing, given the history of protest in China, especially May 4th and the date nothing happened in 1989. I think he’s right about that, but I think the reasons why become clearer if you think about analogies for what is happening in the Middle East. Some people are tossing around 1848 in Europe, which works in some respects, but for an Asian analogy I think 1911 and the overthrow of the Qing works somewhat better.2 The Qing dynasty was not overthrown by Sun Yat-sen and his band of revolutionaries, but ultimately by the various provincial assemblies the declared for the revolution after the Wuchang uprising. A series of provincial elites decided, sometimes for different reasons, to abandon the Qing. It is not that surprising that Yuan Shikai became the first effective leader of the new state, since what was happening was not a mass uprising or a tidal wave of democracy but rather one part of the elite dumping the dynasty and quickly establishing a new government. This is pretty clearly what has been happening in Egypt, with the military choosing to at least get rid of Mubarak, even if they are not sure what will come next. In Libya at least part of the army seems to be standing with the government, and in Morocco all of it. There is even a Twitter/Facebook parallel with the role of the telegraph in spreading news of the revolution in 1911.
Obviously there are lots of differences as well. The Arab World may be a reasonably coherent cultural area, but its countries are not Chinese provinces. Imperialism is still around, but in a very different form. So why does this comparison matter? I think it matters some because the main thing that encouraged elite factions in 1911 to settle their differences quickly was the fear of foreign invasion. For whatever reasons (and we really can’t know yet) the Egyptian elite decided fairly quickly that whatever the future would be it would not involve Mubarak or his sons. I can’t think of anything really forcing a rapid resolution in, say Bahrain, other than the fact that chaos is bad. In 1911 the “masses in the street” were the new armies and modern educated people, who conservative modernizers had good reason not to kill. Unfortunately I don’t see much reason for the rulers of oil states to care how many students or poor people they kill. If a Jasmine Revolution did break out in China it is hard to see how it would lead to a split in the elite, and likely they would be willing to kill as many of the dispossessed as they could afford ammo for. Still, hope springs eternal, and Jasmine Revolution is a good name, even if it does not seem likely to be coming soon.
- Yes, a post at Fallows site at the Atlantic. Mark Twain published in the Atlantic. It’s only a matter of time before Jeremiah’s friends get a call from VH-1′s Behind the Music about the young, idealistic, talented, scholar-blogger who may still exist somewhere inside the bloated mass of excess and degradation he will have become by about 2014 [↩]
- Obviously I say this with very little real knowledge of what is happening right now in Egypt or Libya, but this is the internet. [↩]
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