The Orchid Revolution (Xiaodongese: 兰花革命; Lánhuā gémìng) describes the end of "guided democracy" in the Auspicious Republic of Xiaodong through use of demonstrations, mass protests, civil disobedience and in some cases violence.
From the creation of the Auspicious Republic in 1934 Xiaodong had been ruled under a system of "guided democracy" with Xiaodong Regeneration Society holding a political monopoly which had utilised widespread repression, censorship and the creation of a system of labour camps to imprison political dissidents in to maintain power. This repression reached its peak in the late 1970's and early 1980's under First Minister Sun Yuting. Following Sun's death in 1984 the new First Minister Qian Xingwen began a programme of shock therapy economics to revive the then-moribund economy. This caused high unemployment and poverty leading to increased calls for political reform.
In November 1987 a nuclear disaster in Yuxiang and the government's poor response led to a backlash as large scale demonstrations across many urban centres including Baiqiao, Rongzhuo, Shenkong, Kuoqing and Hongbu led to calls for political and economic reform by the Popular Front. An aborted coup was attempted in Rongzhuo by the Shujichu before the army intervened, leading to Qian Xingwen and Second Minister Li Jingyao to announced political reforms in the form of multi-party elections and a new constitution.
Xiaodong had since the 1940's relied on economic planning, state capitalism and import substitution industrialisation to achieve rapid industrialisation and economic growth. However by the 1980's this had developed into stagflation as the state ran high deficits, faced supply shocks and struggled to simulate economic growth. Inflation in 1983 stood at 800%. In the face of economic collapse in 1984 after assuming power Qian Xingwen bowed to pressure from the Ministry of Finance to introduce a policy of economic marketisation including a series of shock therapy packages drafted by Minister of Finance Mao Zhukang and his principal economic adviser Wang Datong. Mao's policy suggestions included the elimination of price controls, especially for fuel and food, a period austerity with substantial cuts to state expenditure, privatisation of state assets and reduction in tariffs. Mao also recommended that state-owned enterprises that weren't privatised should be corpratised to increase efficiency and eliminate waste. The intent was to create an artificial economic shock to allow the market to adjust to new economic conditions.
With the economy in collapse Qian agreed to Mao's proposals, selling off the post service, water, airports, sections of the rail service, the health service and most banks. The remaining SOE's saw massive layoffs (the Xiaodongese Mining Confederation seeing a third of its workforce made redundant) as they were intended to be made more efficient whilst wages were drastically lowered and the state implemented cuts in most government run projects. The shock therapy package resulted in poverty to increase as the price of goods increased with the removal of price controls and unemployment became more prevalent.
The mass unemployment caused by shock therapy was controversial, with labour unrest being more common as a result thanks to layoffs and closures. The Shujichu estimated between 1984-1988 the strikes in Baiqiao rose tenfold from their number between 1980-1984. The government saw protests and an upsurge in dissident activity connected to the poor economic situation for many of citizens, but due to the rigid austerity policy did not resort to the usual policy of simply subsidising "zombie industry" to contain dissent.
Since the creation of the Ausipcious Republic in 1934 Xiaodong had been ruled as a "guided democracy" under the nationalist Xiaodong Regeneration Society. Although elections were held with Association of Political Friendship and the Zhi Gong League competing in elections the government "managed" electoral results ensuring such parties remained satellites of the Regeneration Society. The Regeneration Society had developed a series of ideological and personalist factions by the mid-1970's with hardliners such as Sun Yuting, Yuan Jiaxiang, Li Dejiang, Guo Ping and Xi Yunhai) being balanced out by moderates (such as Qian Xingwen, Mao Zhukang, Liu Xiaoyun, Tan Xuefen and Jiang De). Hardliners tended to be more supportive of tighter political repression and a more closed economy than the moderates.
Following the assassination of Sun Yuting in 1984 and the rise of Qian Xingwen moderates such as Li Jingyao became ascendant within the regime. Qian hoped to introduce pragmatic economic reforms, political decentralisation and a foreign policy based around realpolitik, wishing to compromise pragmatic
aims with the ideological purity of National Principlism, with reform being tightly controlled and cautious in nature. Due to the conservative nature of the central government in Rongzhuo Qian gave more power to local party bosses in the hope that they would more readily implement reforms. Qian intended to maintain the managed democratic system but the upsurge in economic reform led to more calls for co-current political reform. Centred in universities dissidents (such as Rao Jixu and Yu Biao) advocated for political as well as economic reform, with calls for reform being most prevalent in the south of the country.
These calls for reform was often exacerbated by the high unemployment and lack of job opportunities for students who directed their anger at the central government. Lack of job opportunities were furthered as privatisation led to many SOE's being sold off to party and criminal bosses, who quickly became known as oligarchs who often promoted people in newly formed companies on the basis of nepotism and cronyism. Students across the country formed "popular front" groups that advocated for reformism and economic justice. Some of these groups simply called for reform of the system to eliminate corruption whilst others called for political democracy.
The development of these calls for reform alarmed the central government which saw them as the pretext for a repeat of the events that led to the 1977 Kuoqing Massacre. In 1986 the Chairman of the State Presidium, Yuan Jiaxiang, called for the "crushing of saboteurs" and that "reform in the political sphere has ended" which greatly weakened the authority of Qian and the reformists.
Yuxiang nuclear disaster
On the 15th November 1987 a nuclear waste storage tank exploded in the town of Yuxiang in the Fengjiazhi prefecture. Xiaodong had launched a nuclear energy program in 1976 under Sun Yuting with the first nuclear plant being built in the Fengjiazhi prefecture, with a nuclear waste reprocessing facility being established near the town of Yuxiang. Poor maintenance in the 1980's meant that in 1988 the cooling system in a tank containing 50 tonnes of liquid radioactive waste failed without being repaired. On the 15th November the tank exploded with the force of 50 tonnes of TNT releasing 10 MCi of radioactivity. The surrounding 12 villages had to be evacuated with over 7,000 people being moved out of the area - however due to official government secrecy such efforts only began a week and a half after the initial accident.
A whistle-blower in the state censorship body leaked news of the accident on the 27th to foreign broadcasting institutions. On the 29th at a press conference Qian was forced to admit there had been an accident at Yuxiang were he apologised "profusely" for the government's slow response.
The news of the nuclear accident angered many in Xiaodong. Student Popular Front groups, the largest in Baiqiao led by the Li twins (Li Ling and Li Dongfang) and that in Kuqoing led by Wang Ximing staged protests on the 30th calling for justice for those affected by the disaster. Protests also developed in Zhinning, Yinbaolei, Hongbu and Zhonghe all organised predominantly by Popular Front groups.
The local governments in the south dominated by reform minded officials allowed the protests on the grounds that they were mostly peaceful. However in some places the protests saw more violence with the police in Xiagang using tear gas on protesters whilst in Henjintao authorities quickly suppressed protests with violence. The northern cities of Rongzhuo and Shenkong saw no protests, but the central government was divided on what to do; reformists such as Li Jingyao called for a dialogue with the protesters whilst conservatives such as Mao Zhukang and Yuan Jiaxiang called for an armed crackdown. In the face of the protests Qian was indecisive leading to deadlock within the government on the correct response.
By the 4th December the protests had morphed from outrage over the poor response to the Yuxiang disaster to more generally about lack of political freedom and the economic difficulties faced by the majority of the population. Many of the protesters called amongst other things economic justice, multi-party elections, and the elimination of corruption in the government. On the 10th December, a week and a half into the protests, Popular Front groups from the southern prefectures of Huayuan, Gaoming, Taixin, Qihongtang, Chengfu, Meifucun and Xibuguo made a joint statement known as the December Declaration which called for amongst other things -
- The removal of Mao Zhukang from the government and the end to "shock therapy".
- The removal of corrupt elements from the Xiaodong Regeneration Society.
- Compensation for those affected by the Yuxiang nuclear disaster.
- The right to organise political groups and independent trade unions.
There was considerable debate whether to include demands for free and multi-party elections - the Huayuan, Gaoming, Chengfu and Xibuguo representatives supported it whilst the Taixin, Qihongtang and Meifucun representatives opposed it. Nevertheless the presentation of a joint declaration put more pressure on the government to respond.
The declaration soon polarised the discourse surrounding the protests. Conservative forces in the Xiaodongese Observer attacked the protesters as "Senrian-backed scabs", but this rhetoric backfired when Second Minister Li Jingyao addressed the protesters calling their demands "reasonable" and agreeing that corruption had to be "stamped out". The divisions in the regime over the protests led to its increased impotency and emboldened the Popular Front.
The 13th December saw the first hunger strikes in Baiqiao amongst students demanding the government come to negotiations with the Popular Front groups. Hunger strikes soon spread across cities, but the central government continued to refuse to speak to the protesters fearing giving into them would undermine legitimacy for the regime. On the 14th the Xiaodongese Shipworkers' Union announced a strike in solidarity with the protesters, demanding better economic conditions. The hunger strikes put pressure on the government to enter talks.
Protests broke out in Duljun on the 8th which supported the December Declaration alongside civil rights of Duljunese. The protests in Duljun were far more violent then those in the rest o the country - nevertheless by the 14th the leaders of the Duljunese protests had joined in the hunger strikes.
On the 17th December Mao Zhukang was hospitalised after suffering a massive stroke. Mao had been a leading figure in supporting a crackdown whilst also being one of Qian's closest confidants, leading to more governmental impotency and divisions within the leadership. As a result of Mao's hospitalisation Qian started to support the more conciliatory approach advocated by Li.
On the 25th December Li Jingyao made another speech where he extolled reform, calling for the regime to listen to the "voices of the people". As a result of Li's speech protests started in Rongzhuo the same day, with over 4,000 people marching on the Supreme Hall of State demanding political freedoms and economic justice.
nd install a pro-Senrian regime. As such he alongside State Chairman Yuan Jiaxiang plotted to crush the protesters, take over the government and establish martial law. Yuan assured Chen he would be able to persuade Qing Hongshu, the Chief of Staff of the Xiaodongese Defence Force to support the government in the event of an attempted putsch. However Qing threw his support behind the Qian government on the basis of the military remaining apolitical, leading to Yuan unbeknown to Chen to abandon the plot.
On the 28th Shujichu soldiers began firing at protesters around the Supreme Hall of State as well as storming the Lanhuatingzi to demand the resignation of Yuan and the installation of a military government. At 7:46AM the Shujichu entered the Lanhuatingzi and put Qian under house arrest where Chen announced the creation of a provisional government that would oversee "order and stability". Chen's forces only had control of central Rongzhuo, meaning his forces were unable to mobilise around the country as Chen had been under the perception that the military would support his putsch.
The announcement of the coup led to citizens in Rongzhuo to engage in civil disobedience against the Shujichu forces, erecting barriers around the city whilst Popular Front leaders called for the release of Qian. The coup was however poorly planned and supported only by the Shujichu; following Chen's announcement Li Jingyao, based in Baiqiao, called Chen a traitor and demanded he release Qian. Yuan Jiaxiang ordered Qing Hongshu to deploy the armed forces to put down the Shujichu in Rongzhuo and arrest Chen; military tanks rolled into the capital at 12:00PM with Shujichu forces surrendering. A hour later Chen himself fled the capital with Qian being restored to the post of First Minister.
Following the botched coup the government was in disarray with pressure mounting on it to enter talks with the hunger strikers. On the 30th December Li Jingyao met with several leaders of the Popular Front, where he agreed to the principle of political reform on behalf of the government, but refused to approve of the December Declaration. A second day of talks between the Popular Front leaders and acting Minister of Finance Han Guanzheng also stalled.
On the 31st December Qing Hongshu presented Qian with a choice; either sign a decree declaring martial law and crushing the protesters or announcing substantive political reform. Qian refused to sign the decree and so on the 1st January in his New Years Address promised there would be constitutional and economic reform in the spirit of the December Declaration. On the 3rd Li was able to negotiate a compromise with the students, accepting the "basic fundamentals " of the December Declaration in return for the end of the hunger strike. On the 4th the government announced the creation of a compensation fund for those affected by the Yuxiang nuclear disaster.
The government held a constitutional forum in February made up of leading politicians, academics, trade union representatives, businessmen and delegates from the Popular Front to discuss a new constitution. In March the rewriting of a new constitution begun with Li Jingyao being the primary drafter. The constitution enshrined the right of political and trade union organisation, devolving power to Duljun and amending Article 7 to read "Xiaodong embraces the principle and spirit of political pluralism" effectively ending the de facto one-party state and supporting the idea of multi-party democracy. The constitution was put to a referendum in May with 54% voting in favour and 46% against on a turnout of 77.3%. Multi-party elections were scheduled for June which saw the Regeneration Society win in a landslide with accusations of voter suppression and electoral fraud being throw the way of the Regeneration Society.
Despite promising to support the December Declaration and setting up a commission on investigating government corruption, the first two points of the December Declaration were never acted upon. Although Mao retired from his position as Finance Minister he continued to be employed as a chief economic adviser to the government which largely continued the shock therapy programme. The government also never seriously clamped down on corruption - after his death it was revealed Qian himself had embezzled over 金250 billion - 金500 billion ($2.38-4.77 billion).