How to Quash a Protest

According to NYT op-ed contributor Russell Leigh Moses the Chinese authorities have employed a successful and repeatable formula in controlling the protests in Xinjiang Province that have claimed more than 150 lives.

Step 1: Cut off cellphone and Internet Access

Many Chinese officials are quite sophisticated in their responses to threats to their governance, and they are not tone-deaf to technology. Cellphone service and Internet access were both blocked within a few hours of the first demonstrations in Xinjiang.

Step 2: Control the message

When word of the unrest cascaded out, much of the news was artfully managed by officials. Friends of mine in Beijing received unsolicited messages on their cellphones that provided the government version of the unrest. Government representatives handed out discs with pictures taken by state news organizations.

The state news media talked up the looting and burning of Han businesses but said nothing about attacks on Uighur establishments, and repeated mantras about stability and order.

Step 3: Crack down forcefully

Rumors ran rampant in the run-up to these riots, but at the end of the day, bullets flew faster and struck harder than netizens’ bulletins.

Step 4: Reward successful repression of dissent

Party cadres know that Beijing’s leadership is largely composed of officials who have not been shy about using force when protests emerged. For example, the crushing of dissent that took place in Beijing and Tibet in 1989 is seen by Chinese decision-makers and the cadres they sponsor as creating the conditions for economic reform. Party members seem to be keenly aware that that those who supported the crackdowns were quickly helicoptered into high-level positions.

An authoritarian regime with the will to crush dissent and the wherewithal to do so can stay in power indefinitely. Those are critical differences between the Chinese regime and the Soviet. The Chinese regime still has the willingness to crack down with whatever force is necessary to keep itself in control and, buoyed with trade dollars, it has plenty of resources to do it with.

Above paramilitary police patrol in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang Province.

FILED UNDER: General, ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. steve says:

    “An authoritarian regime with the will to crush dissent and the wherewithal to do so can stay in power indefinitely. ”

    Hmm, kind of a tautology? Hinges on wherewithal I guess. Depending on how far back you go in history, there are lots of authoritarian governments that were overthrown while they were still willing to rule. Probably most military coups fall into that category. If the authoritarian regime has a relatively small nucleus, they can be eliminated by a relatively small, ruthless group. Granted, that usually leads to another authoritarian regime.

    My longer view on China is that the net/cellphones are slowly eroding the Chinese authoritarian style. It’s a much different country than in the days of the cultural revolution. Talk with some Chinese who live here, but travel home a lot.


  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Authoritarian regimes, e.g. the Soviet Union, sometimes lose the will to crush dissent. The old revolutionary fervor vanishes with the old generation.

    You haven’t described removing an authoritarian regime. You’ve described changing the placecards.

    Who knows what will happen in the long term? For the foreseeable future the regime will stay in power. The only thing they really need to worry about is economic downturn.

  3. DC Loser says:

    An authoritarian regime with the will to crush dissent and the wherewithal to do so can stay in power indefinitely.

    I would caveat that statement with the condition that the economy remains viable and that the basic needs of the population is met. Once the social contract is broken for basic needs, then all bets are off. East Germany in 1989 is an example. There wasn’t any slacking in the East German’s efforts to crush dissent until the very end when the flood of East Germans leaving and demonstrating became too great to turn back. Even North Korea may reach its breaking point if conditions become even worse and the Kim’s hold on power is threatened by others in the regime.

  4. MstrB says:

    Just reporting in from Beijing… Twitter has been down here for at least a week and Facebook got shut down in the last 24-48 hours. YouTube has of course has been blocked for a while.

  5. Davebo says:

    You left out the most important part!

    Convince Andrew McCarthy to cheer on the communist regime.

    You really just can’t make this shit up. But you can breathe a sigh of relief that he’s no longer on the federal payroll.

  6. blinded1 says:

    It is very convenient. If a minority can be considered as Han if he/she get along well with Han Chinese then can . FYI, Uighurs are not the only muslin minority, not even the largest muslin minority in China. The largest muslin minority is Hui, who are also the target in this murderous riots.

    Hundred millions of immigrant are working the the coastal areas, all from perished and alienated regions. Most choose to better their lives by hard work, not pocket-picking and robbery. If there is stereotype of Uighurs, it is unfortunately created by a few bad apples (but unusual higher proportion than other ethnic groups) of Uighurs who tarnished the image of Uighurs as whole.

  7. Barry says:

    Davebo, that’s just part of “Step 2: Control the message”. They’re just using loyal regime lackeys who are coming from an unexpected direction.

  8. DL says:

    How do you say Fairness Doctrine in Chinese?