Richard Wolin in the Los Angeles Review of Books:
“Sustain harmony!” This is a CCP (Chinese Communist Party) mantra that is omnipresent in Shanghai and other major Chinese cities. Chinese society is and has always been haunted by the paralyzing fear of luan: chaos or anarchy. The so-called “century of humiliation” from 1850 to 1950 — first at the hands of Western imperialism, then at the hands of Japanese militarism — remains keenly engraved in the Chinese cultural psyche. Of course, it is in the government’s interest to stress the communitarian values of collective belonging over the perils of Western-style possessive individualism.
The communitarian dimension of Chinese life has its distinctly attractive side. Wherever one goes, one senses the importance of group belonging: that it behooves individuals to maintain loyalties and commitments that transcend the self qua isolated ego or monad. But the sinister political use to which this slogan can be, and often is, put manifested itself in the vigorous crackdown on dissidents that occurred prior to the 2008 Olympics — a major feather in the regime’s cap — and again the following year, with the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations.
Since the Arab Spring, the repression has become even more severe. The words “Egypt” and “Tahrir Square” have been banned from internet searches. Since “jasmine” has become a code word for collective dissent or resistance (the Tunisian revolt was originally labeled the “Jasmine Revolution”), today — in a scenario worthy of George Orwell — the flower stands under a semi-official government ban. Florists cannot peddle them to prospective buyers. To use the word in text messages is to risk an interrogation by state security services.