In the decades following the 1989 student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, the possibility of social instability brought about by protests is of ongoing concern to China’s leaders. The Chinese government has done much in the past few years to tackle those issues thought to have contributed to the Tiananmen protests — inflation, government corruption, and unemployment, for example. Chinese officials and think tanks are also keeping a close eye on large-scale protests around the world. Of particular interest over the past month were the widespread protests in Brazil. Though mentioned cautiously in the Chinese media and most often attributed to the “grandeur associated with the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics,” they are very much the focus of discussion and debate within Chinese government institutions.
Chile’s 2011 education protests also received considerable attention in China, especially following the wave of Arab Spring demonstrations earlier in the year. The Chilean protests were listed by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences as one of the top events in Latin America in 2011. Although they had little chance of provoking similar activity across the Pacific (despite comparable concerns in China regarding education access and quality), they did expand to include broader interest groups and issues — from constitutional reform to a revamped tax system. Chile’s protests also sparked education-related demonstrations throughout the Latin America, as noted by CASS scholars.
Comments on the Brazil protests by users of Weibo, China’s Twitter/blog hybrid, have focused on the role of transit fees in provoking the demonstrations. They make comparisons between Chinese and Brazilian reactions to transit fare increases, for example. The Brazilians, one Weibo blogger notes, are “all riled up about a 20 centavo (50 cents RMB) transit hike and went out on the streets and protested against their government. Meanwhile in Beijing, we kept our cool in the face of a huge increase in cab fare.” Another netizen remarked that “in Brazil, protests broke out due to a trivial transit hike. Here we’d have a 30 percent increase in transit prices and the experts would consider it ‘normal’ and we’d be too jaded to even complain. Compared to our fellow developing country, China ought to be proud of itself.”