Hong Kong protests: China's guide to democracy

China's National Day celebrations 4 October 2014 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption China is celebrating 65 years since Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China

Quiz question: What has been the top trending story on China's social media this week? Wrong answer: Hong Kong. Correct answer: People named 'Guoqing', which in Chinese means 'national celebration'.

On Tuesday China winds up a weeklong public holiday to mark National Day, the anniversary of the 1949 Revolution when the Communist Party came to power. Since then, the Party has imposed tight control over the media, and at times of crisis the room for nuanced reporting shrinks to zero.

In the early days of last week, the state propaganda machine met the Hong Kong protests in almost total silence as it awaited instructions from the Communist Party leadership on what to say. Now, despite the distraction of National Day celebrations, the orders have come down, and the machine is working at full throttle.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption National Day commemorates the proclamation of the People's Republic of China in Tiananmen Square in 1949
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption While national celebrations were happening in China, Hong Kong's protesters called for democracy
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption State media condemned the pro-democracy protests that have paralysed the city of Hong Kong

Democracy, People's Daily-style

The Chinese state controls the press. Over recent days, the Communist Party flagship newspaper has set the tone for Hong Kong coverage with several commentaries and editorials on its front page. Monday's edition explained the Party's thinking on the principle of democracy, with an editorial which argued that "respecting the will and interests of the majority is the common essence of all democracies."

The column went on to argue that Britain had done nothing for democracy in Hong Kong and to insinuate that the 'Occupy' movement is the tool of hostile foreign interests.

Using illegal means to achieve "noble" purposes is a lie told by a small group of ambitious schemers….who maintain the colonial mentality and are hostile towards democracy.

Missing from this primer on democracy is any mention of what citizens should do when they see their laws as unjust and their leaders as unaccountable.

At no point in the past turbulent week have China's media mentioned that Hong Kong's demonstrators are peaceful nor have they tackled the rights and wrongs of non-violent civil disobedience. The People's Daily does not address Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King.

Image caption Chairman Mao was the founding father of the People's Republic of China

Nor for that matter does it rush to revisit its own revolution. The simple fact is that there would be no celebrating the 65th anniversary of the People's Republic if Mao Zedong had followed current Party instructions on lawful protest.

Mao himself had little time for civil disobedience. He is famous for lines like 'political power comes from the barrel of a gun' and 'revolution is not a dinner party'.

He would have scoffed at the 'umbrella revolutionaries' with their hands in the air and signs apologising for disruption.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A lot of Hong Kong's "Occupy Central" protesters are students

The revolution...will be heavily edited

The Chinese public gets its national television news from one place, CCTV. Pictures present particular problems for propaganda organs and several days into the Hong Kong crisis, there were only words.

But since the weekend, CCTV has run long reports from its reporters in Hong Kong showing traffic disruption and a chorus of angry voices opposed to the protests from commuters to shopkeepers and foreign residents.

The only images of the protesters themselves are carefully edited to give the impression that police are dealing with a potentially violent crowd of extremists.

There are no interviews with the demonstrators and no attempt to address their point of view.

Monday evening's news headline on CCTV was 'All walks of life express strong dissatisfaction towards Occupy Central'.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Beijing is at pains to clamp down on coverage of the protests for fears it will trigger similar unrest in China

Down the memory hole

Anything which may remind mainland citizens of the Tiananmen democracy protests of 1989 is particularly sensitive. Western social media like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube are blocked in China.

The photo sharing application Instagram which is normally available has also now been blocked so that images of Hong Kong's protest cannot circulate.

And on China's Twitter equivalent, Weibo, searches for "Occupy Central", "Hong Kong students" and "Umbrella Revolution" return error messages.

A concerted campaign to eradicate images which present the demonstrators as idealistic, numerous, vulnerable…and especially young.

China now has its own clear narrative of what's happening in Hong Kong and is working hard to close down any alternative.

But at the same time as depriving his citizens of images from the "umbrella revolution" China's president Xi Jinping will no doubt be watching them closely himself.

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