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Contentions

Welcoming the Ox

The Year of the Ox arrives tomorrow.  The Chinese — in China and in communities around the world — are now celebrating with fireworks and food.  And with traditional thoughts about good fortune for the future.  “Just like everyone else I hope that life this year will be a little better than last year,” said Angela Zhu, a young lawyer, in Beijing.

For most of China’s Chinese, the Ox’s year will be worse.  Stock markets are sinking, property prices are crashing, and economic output is shrinking.  No economy is falling faster than China’s at this moment.  For tens of millions of Chinese, there will be no jobs after the long break to mark the beginning of the year.

The country has been plagued by strikes, protests, and insurrections for more than a half year but especially since October.  “The crisis in the West is purely economic,” said labor rights activist Li Qiang this month.  “But in China it’s a huge political problem.”

The Communist Party’s senior leaders undoubtedly view the coming months as especially precarious.  This year, the country will see an unusual number of sensitive anniversaries.  March 10 is the 50th anniversary of the uprising in Tibet.  Each year monks march to commemorate the event, and in a few months security forces will go on special alert to prevent any demonstrations against Beijing’s abhorrent rule over this minority.

April 25 will see the tenth anniversary of the surrounding of the Communist Party’s leadership compound in Beijing by approximately ten thousand adherents of the Falun Gong faith.  The protest, which shocked Chinese leaders, was followed by a murderous crackdown lasting years.

May 4 will be the 90th anniversary of what is probably the most important demonstration in modern Chinese history.  On that day in 1919 students rallied in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square against the decision, made at Versailles, to give Germany’s possessions in the Shandong peninsula to Japan instead of back to China.

May 4 will be followed by June 4, the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre in 1989.  Tiananmen is still an open wound for the Communist Party and the country as a whole.

And four months after that comes the 60th anniversary of Mao’s founding of the People’s Republic on October 1.  The Party will put on a massive military parade — reminiscent of those in Moscow’s Red Square — to show off its growing might.

Any of these anniversaries can be used by angry Chinese citizens as an excuse to air grievances against the Party.  In a time of severe economic downturn — the first in memory for most Chinese — anything can happen during the Ox’s reign over the Chinese calendar.



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