American media hardly noticed it when demonstrators first took up position on Wall Street in early September last year in what later became known as Occupy Wall Street. But most Chinese knew about it. Chinese media covered the event enthusiastically when I could find no mention of it in my usual American news sources on the internet. Looking through the communist hype of the state-owned media in China, it seemed to me to be nothing more than a peaceful demonstration, something with which Americans have become accustomed. After all, we have the First Amendment, and many political and social agendas are set by such demonstrations.
But the Chinese government saw Occupy Wall Street as a victory of socialism over capitalism, relentlessly following up on every detail, repeating details from the day before when there were no new details, and broadcasting “talking heads” to give their take on when the western system of government would ultimately, and quickly, collapse. Beijing intended to encourage in its citizens a heightened sense of nationalism by reminding them what a great county they have, that the socialist system is superior to capitalism, and that the Chinese Communist Party has got their back.
But the propaganda mother lode failed to pan out as Beijing hoped, and as Occupy Wall Street spread to other cities in America and the world, it likewise spread to China to the little known provincial capital of Zhengzhou in Henan. As far as capital cities go, Zhengzhou is a backwater and can probably be compared to St. Louis in that it is centrally located and serves as a crossroads for railway traffic. It is heavily industrialized and has the worst air quality in China. It is also the capital of China’s most populated province with more than 100 million residents, some of whom were inspired by China Central Television’s broadcast coverage of Occupy Wall Street.
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Most people in Zhengzhou never heard about the Occupy Zhengzhou demonstration last month. It was never reported in Chinese media. Subsequent to the October 6 demonstration in Zhengzhou, Chinese news of Occupy Wall Street was severely curtailed, with only bits and pieces shown for the purpose of alienating Chinese affection for America. The core values behind the demonstration, which were often repeated before October 6, are now banned from the media and internet in China. Nothing more is said about the fact that the Occupy movement that began on Wall Street is about the widening gap between the rich and the poor. And few things infuriates the average Chinese citizen more than that very issue, that so few people in China control so much wealth.
According to the U.S. News and World Report in 2006, more than 2,000 people in China are worth more than $2 million. That number has grown substantially since then, but still the significant majority of Chinese live far below the poverty level. In America, about 1% of the people control 90% of the wealth. In China, fewer than .0001% of the people control 90% of the wealth says Wu Xianjian, Chinese social commentator. Of those that control the wealth, 99.9% are members of the Chinese Communist Party. This makes it easy to see why the Chinese Communist Party is not willing to allow people to demonstrate against those that control the wealth in China.
To give a better example of the gap between those with money and those without, one has merely to browse through a typical shopping mall in China. The shopper will see many stores with the same brand names seen at malls in America, as well as many high priced Chinese brands. However the costs of goods in these malls are extraordinarily high compared to what the average worker can afford to pay. A white man’s dress shirt at a mall in Zhengzhou costs between $130 and $180. The same shirt in the U.S. might retail for between $50 and $90. But the average worker in Zhengzhou City makes around $130 a month. Outside the city, people earn much less. The workers who sell the shirts are lucky to make in one month the cost of the shirts they sell.
The cost of basic goods in China is rising dramatically. In only seven years, the cost of pork has risen by about 200%, significantly impacting a nation that considers pork a staple in every meal. Costs of other basic products have likewise risen between 150%-300%, but wages have only increased by about 15%. Housing, too, has increased tremendously, rising in the same period in some markets by as much as 800%. The people who own homes are the ones who purchased them many years before or the ones who can afford them now, which has led to a new industry in the rental home business, something that was the exception rather than the norm only a few years ago. It is little wonder that the average Chinese citizen wants to complain.
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The Occupy Zhengzhou demonstration is considered a “mass incident,” a Chinese propaganda term intended to downplay the impact of news regarding demonstrations involving more than 100 people. By definition then, the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre and the Occupy Zhengzhou demonstration are both mass incidents. Chinese authorities view any mass incident as serious, which is likely the reason that most residents of Zhengzhou, especially the expatriate community, knew nothing of the demonstration on October 6.
This past Saturday, Occupy Zhengzhou happened again. There is no mention of it on the internet, and there was no reporting of it in the media. Instead, the Chinese media has refocused on its vilification of America by reporting on the devastating earthquake in Oklahoma. I’m sure you have heard of it. That’s the earthquake that killed nobody.
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