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Meet the 22-year-old geek behind the Chinese Jasmine Revolution

Sydney Morning Herald | April 7, 2011
A Chinese man who goes by the internet alias "Forest Intelligence" is a member of one group spreading anonymous calls online for pro-democracy protests in China.

Strolling past hip cafes, the young Chinese man in a white sports jacket and faded jeans looks like any other university student in the South Korean capital. But the laptop in his black backpack is a tool in a would-be revolution in China.

The 22-year-old computer science student is part of a group behind appeals that started popping up anonymously on the internet seven weeks ago, calling on Chinese to stage peaceful protests to get the ruling Communist Party to move towards democracy.

Those calls have spooked the government into launching one of its broadest campaigns of repression in years to keep the protests from catching on, as they have in the Middle East and North Africa.

The Associated Press tracked down the student and some of his colleagues, giving an inside look at one group of campaigners behind the online petitions, and how they use technology to operate behind the anonymity of the internet.

The group is a network of 20 mostly highly educated, young Chinese with eight members inside China and 12 in more than half a dozen other countries.

Calling itself "The Initiators and Organisers of the Chinese Jasmine Revolution" after a phrase used in the Tunisian uprising, the group is not the sole source of the protest calls; at least four others have sprung up.

Interviews with four members of the Initiators show similar evolutions: all are young people who grew to resent the government's autocratic rule and China's widespread inequality and injustice. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt made change look possible.

"People born in the late '80s and the '90s have basically decided that in their generation one-party rule cannot possibly outlive them, cannot possibly even continue in their lifetimes. This is for certain," the lean, softly spoken student who goes by the internet alias "Forest Intelligence" said in an interview at a cafe in Seoul's trendy Samcheong-dong district.

The group's calls for weekly demonstrations every Sunday in dozens of cities have attracted many onlookers but few outright protesters. Still, their impact is clear. The government has responded with more police on the streets, more internet monitoring and the detention, disappearance or arrest of more than 200 people.

Artist and government critic Ai Weiwei appears to be the latest, taken into custody last weekend. The group said none of those detained had been involved with their protest calls.

Members of the group requested anonymity out of concern that they or their families might be targeted by the government, which maintains an extensive network of informants among student groups overseas. Most members know each other only by internet nicknames.

 

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