Jun 10

Beijing considering a Speaker’s Corner?

Written by Buxi on Tuesday, June 10th, 2008 at 12:03 am
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A report out of Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper suggests that as a form of political liberalization, Beijing is considering the establishment of a “petitioner’s district” zone in Beijing, a free speech zone similar to London’s famous Hyde Park. The intent is to manage possible public dissent during the Beijing Olympics. The report (文章, translation below) only mentions an anonymous source in Beijing, so take it with a bucket of salt.

For those not familiar with the Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, it is by tradition an area where anyone can speak publicly on any subject at any time, without requiring government permit or approval. Perhaps someone more familiar with British politics can fill us in on details; Wikipedia mentions a previous attempt to block an Iraq War protest?

The article reads:

With 60 days to go until the Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, the city of Beijing is continuing to prepare for public security concerns. In addition to recently issued safety procedures for dealing with sudden public incidents, in order to deal with petitioners entering Beijing to protest, the government plans to modify its procedures. Rather than forcibly repatriating petitioners to their registered homes, the “World Park” (in Fengtai district) will instead be sealed off and designated specifically for the use of petitioners. Starting at the beginning of next month, petitioners from throughout the city will be brought into this direct. Reportedly, this is intended to emulate England’s Hyde Park model, in which petitioners can speak, protest, or march. This is intended to highlight the current government’s “people-oriented” approach, while also avoiding potential disruption of the Olympics.

Beijing sources reveal that dealing with unhappy petitioners has long been as a serious challenge for security at the Beijing Olympics. Now, the government has the intent of taking a more open approach towards the petitioners, and will allocate World Park to their special use. During the Olympics, petitioners can speak, protest, and march within the specifically designated areas within the park. Relevant departments will also provide food and water.

Traditionally, the government has primarily had the policy of obstructing and repatriating petitioners who seek to visit Beijing directly. The government has asked Beijing police to take steps in order to prevent large numbers of petitioners from protesting around Tiananmen, Zhongnanhai, the homes of the central government leadership, foreign embassies, as well as Olympic arenas (commonly called the “4+1” areas), with the belief that this negatively affects the country’s appearance. But because of the numerous dialects spoken by petitioners, communication with the Beijing police has been difficult. Therefore, the procedures have placed the responsibility for protests at these “4+1” areas on the original provinces where petitioners are from. These provinces have put their own staff at these “4+1” areas to intercept petitioners, and are responsible for repatriating them home.

One official based in Beijing has expressed that the majority of petitioners have reason for their complaint; it’s precisely because they are unable to get justice in their local areas that they hope to appeal in Beijing directly. But there’s also another type of petitioners called “professional petitioners”. Whenever they’re detained, they demand money before they’re willing to return home. The infamous “petitioner’s village” is also covered with garbage and polluted water.

On MITBBS, many people express interest in the idea as a long-term feature. If it happens, it’d certainly be an interesting evolutionary step in officially sanctioned public political participation for average Chinese.

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13 Responses to “Beijing considering a Speaker’s Corner?”

  1. Buxi Says:

    Here’s an essay from a MITBBS poster, describing his vision for the park, as proposed 2 months ago… (slightly tongue in cheek?):

    Olympics – Lu Xun Park – Proposal for harmonious free speech

    In response to foreign media using the Olympics to attack the human rights situation and lack of free speech in China, perhaps our government should consider creating something similar to London’s Hyde Park. It can be called something like the Olympics Lu Xun Park. The park would allow anyone to setup a stage and share their anti- or pro- Party political sentiments, anti- or pro-Olympics, anti- or pro- America/Europe. No legal consequences for any speech, but the contents of any speech can not be spread outside of the park.

    In the beginning, we can limit the number of people allowed to participate, perhaps by selling tickets. Electronic measuring devices can be used to measure the loudness of supporters and opponents during any debate.

    As the park structure becomes more mature, this can be expanded to other cities, gradually becoming a mechanism for monitoring speech. Because the audience is limited, and spreading of messages outside of the park is prohibited, this won’t stir up social chaos. Right now, debates in private can’t really be decided. Letting everyone debate publicly can stop rumors from spreading, and will also limit effectiveness of paid agents posting online.

    This way, we can show the world free speech’s existence in China. It will also allow fenqing and opposition figures the chance to dissipate anger in public, making it unnecessary for them to link up with foreign media and cause trouble. The government can also get a better sense of public opinion, discover potentially dangerous figures, and actually strengthen its rule.

  2. WW Says:

    If this is going to be true, then it should be an important step toward a democracy. Not necessarily a good thing. I am afraid that free speech would then be institutionalized and therefore more easily controlled or manipulated. It would lose its originality and become rhetoric speak like all democracy currently in the world. However, before it’s institutionalized, it would be good for the people and the government.

  3. Nimrod Says:

    Seems like the government is getting smarter and “getting connected” with world practices. Really doesn’t solve any problems, but image is important.

    I think we’ll see more and more of these as the 70’s and 80’s generations take over. Currently we are in the grips of the Cultural Revolution generation, and unfortunately, it shows.

  4. Charles Liu Says:

    Singapore has a “free-speech zone” too. Today only one crazy guy shows up and he speaks to no one.

  5. AC Says:

    Interesting article:

  6. Buxi Says:


    Very good article. That’s been on my mind for the last few weeks, because I remember a lot of discussion about the Vietnamese Communist party’s internal elections last year.

    I think it’s a little unfair to imply political reforms led to this economic collapse… although if Vietnam doesn’t have a strong enough central government to respond strongly to this crisis, then political reforms will be responsible for *future* collapse.

    But I think the point of the article you linked is, economic reforms + success is the fundamental foundation on which *everything* else sits, and that it must be the ultimate priority… and on that, I agree. I will try to find time to translate this later for the blog… unless someone else (you!) want to.

  7. Wahaha Says:

    here is the original one by Newsweek.


  8. AC Says:


    I don’t know enough details about Vietnam’s political reform, so I can’t say if it has anything to do with the current crisis over there. However, I would imagine that political reform does have some effects on the decision making process though.

    The article is interesting because it raised some interesting questions. Your English is much better than mine, please translate it if you think it’s worthy of a post. It might generate some debates.

    And here are some rumors 🙂

  9. FOARP Says:

    Speaker’s corner is a place of the kind which newspaper columnists bring up as an example of freedom of speech, but to which they pay very little attention otherwise. I cannot think of an example of an important or interesting speech which has been made at one. Anyway, they are nowadays much neglected, I used to jog past the one at Victoria Park every day, but I never saw anyone speaking there.

    Much more important than having freedom of speech at speaker’s corner is the freedom of speech that exists outside of it – but it might be a good start.

  10. johnson Says:

    The fact that London’s Speakers Corner is strictly for cranks and windbags is a healthy sign. But when the only outlet for free speech is in the corner of a park you’re looking pretty pathetic.

  11. rocking offkey Says:

    The power of speech nowadays is in the media. It’s a represented “freedom of speech”.

  12. eyg Says:

    Has anyone been reading the news? They’ve set up these protest sites, but are arresting people who APPLY use them. No one has demonstrated yet, and those who apply for a permit to protest in the designated protest areas, according to the New York Times, have been rejected – and all “talked to” by gov’t officials, arrested and sentenced to labor camps or have simply disappeared. Though this might have been put in place by the government to appease human rights activitists, it seems to have turned into a trap for the Chinese people.

    For reference – http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/21/sports/olympics/21protest.html?_r=1&ref=world&oref=slogin

  13. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To eyg:

    Been discussed of late, see link. Everything you mentioned, and lots more.

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